The dream of becoming a naturalized American came true for 56 people at a ceremony in Hartford on Friday. They came to America from two dozen countries, like Australia, Ukraine, Morocco, and Jordan.
With their families cheering them on, U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa Bryant declared them U.S. citizens.
“This is really proud moment for me. I feel so excited, very pleased and honored,” said Hewad Hemat.
Hemat came to America on a special immigration visa in 2014 for the work he did as a translator for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He said he ran 15 radio stations which helped get word out to residents about the reason U.S. forces were in Afghanistan.
"The United States forces were not just there to fight, they built a lot of reconstruction projects, they built a lot schools, they built a lot of roads, they built hospitals," he explained.
He also encouraged residents not to join the insurgency.
Hemat said he received death threats from the Taliban.
“You better stop working for the Americans otherwise we’ve already decided we’re going to find you, we’re going to kill you,” he recalls the message he received.
Hemat said he’s forever grateful to U.S. forces for helping his homeland. His sisters went to school for the first time in their lives after the war. Now, he hopes to give his five children the same opportunity in America.
“I sit up here with my kids in the land of freedom, peace, opportunity,” he said.
Sandra Estrada Carmona came from Colombia a decade ago. A civil engineer in Manhattan, the Stamford resident said she was excited to finally be called an American.
“Becoming a citizen is actually to me is life-changing in that way because there’s still a lot of prejudice in the sense that sometimes if you’re not citizen you’re not part of society,” she explained.
Bryant addressed that concern.
“Some of you may feel not so welcome,” she said. “This remains a land of opportunity.”
“We need the talents and energy and dedication of these kinds of people who want to be in America,” added U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, (D) Connecticut.
Hemat said he's never felt like an outsider in America and wants to keep serving the country he now calls home.
“I’m thankful for everything in the United States because when I see my kids in the morning they are going to school without any fear,” he said. “I’m thankful for having a peaceful life here.”
Hemat said he’s working on his bachelor’s degree in political science but doesn’t plan to stop until he gets his PhD. He said he believes getting an education will open up more opportunities for him and his family.