It was "a special moment" for one newly naturalized citizen when Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, administered the Oath of Allegiance in lower Manhattan Friday.
In Napolitano's last visit to New York City as Homeland Security chief, 137 people from 43 countries became American citizens at a ceremony in Federal Plaza.
"I can look across this room and look across Ellis Island and Boston's Fenway Park and sense the beauty and joy of being a citizen of the United States," said Napolitano, listing venues where she administered the oath at dozens of naturalization ceremonies since becoming secretary of Homeland Security in 2009.
"In the past 4 1/2 years we have naturalized 3 million new Americans -- thousands who are already serving in the country's armed forces," she said.
Napolitano urged the new citizens to begin their new lives "using your talents and intellect to contribute to our communities," she said. "Help educate the next generation."
Napolitano leaves office next month to become president of the University of California. During her two-day visit to the Big Apple, she met with first responders at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and One World Trade Center.
Being able to shake hands and receive his naturalization papers from Napolitano was "a special moment in an already exciting day," said Cristian Pelle, 31, of Westchester, who was born in Italy and came to the United States five years ago.
As a new citizen, Pelle said he is looking forward to casting his first vote. "Being a citizen brings in new responsibilities with my new rights," he said.
His wife, Michelle Delucca, said: "A weight has been lifted today. We can feel that he is 100 percent welcomed and feel we're at home."
Sylvia McKenna, 71, who is from England, said: "If you are going to live in a country, then your loyalty should be with that country."
McKenna, a retired teacher's assistant, moved to Manhattan six years ago to be with her sons and their families. Both her sons married American women and her grandchildren were all born here, she said.
"I couldn't wait to take my oath today. I have been coming to this country for 20 years and now I can live here," she said.
A nurse's aide in the Bronx, Stella Adeye, 42, who is from Nigeria, said: "It's a great day with new chances in my life."