Kadhum Swailem entered the federal courthouse in Detroit Monday morning as one of 103 immigrants from 32 countries taking the final step to become a naturalized American.

By noon, the Iraq-born microbiologist was leaving as a U.S. citizen, already thinking about the 2016 presidential election and his opportunity to exercise his new right to vote in a national election.

“I feel more free, more freedom. I am happy to be a U.S. citizen. I am going to vote in November,” Swailem said with a smile, just minutes after his naturalization ceremony inside U.S. District Court.

It was a day of jitters, smiles, handshakes and photographs for immigrants and their families, who held small American flags as they waited for the formal process to begin.

U.S. District Judge David Lawson presided over the special session of court, which got its start with the U.S. national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” sung by the room of nearly 200 people.

Lawson told the immigrants that the strength of the United States comes from its diversity and that being a citizen is not easy.

“It requires participation, tolerance, devotion and sacrifice. It is not a spectator sport. It’s requires action or we will lose the gifts passed down to us,” Lawson said.

More than 27 of the new citizens came from Iraq, while others emigrated from Yemen, Lebanon, France, Chile, Vietnam, Canada, China, Ukraine and other countries.

The event culminated in each applicant taking an oath of allegiance, administered by the judge. One by one, each applicant was called by name up to a small stage, where Lawson handed them an official certificate of naturalization, completing the process. Lawson encouraged every new citizen to register to vote.

Lawson said nothing in the oath says new citizens must give up the culture, heritage or other things they love about the country they have left.

“Treasure those things and share with your neighbors here,” he said.

Tamara Marriott of Jamaica brought her two children, ages 4 and 10, to the ceremony. Marriott says she has always felt like a U.S. citizen — she arrived here in 2005 — but she became one this year to show her children they should always strive for a better life.

“My plan is to go to college and show them they can too,” said Marriott, who works as a cafeteria supervisor for a Detroit charter school.

Daniel Wang attended the ceremony with his wife, son and daughter-in-law. Wang, an architect, was born in China and came to Canada 20 years ago. He became an American citizen on Monday “because I love the United States and I will try to do my best to contribute.”

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