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On Constitution Day, scores become U.S. citizens at LI ceremony

Jacob Peralta holds the American flag while accompanying

Jacob Peralta holds the American flag while accompanying his immigrant parents at a naturalization ceremony at the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Oyster Bay on Tuesday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Caroline Halimi visited New York City more than two decades ago on her 12th birthday and immediately fell in love. From the skyscrapers to the subways, the Paris-born Halimi, who was raised on American music and television, was quickly smitten with the nation's culture, its people and its opportunity.  

Twenty three years later, Halimi and her husband, Arnaud Halimi, also a French native, achieved their lifelong dreams, taking the Oath of Allegiance to become American citizens.  

"Becoming an American today is really an explosion of feelings," said Caroline Halimi, 35, of Great Neck, who works at Morgan Stanley in Manhattan. "I am proud to raise my children in a country where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are part of the core values." 

The couple, who have four American-born children, were joined Tuesday — on the 232nd anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution — by 61 others for a naturalization ceremony at the Sagamore House in Oyster Bay, a National Historic Site that was once home to President Theodore Roosevelt. 

"This country has given us a lot of accomplishments and I am very proud to be part of it," said Arnaud Halimi, 38, who works in finance.

Tuesday's ceremony was stoked in historical significance, held on the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment that would give women the right to vote in 1920 after 36 states ratified it. Sagamore, home to the nation's 26th president from 1885-1919, played a key role in the movement, hosting the opening of the second New York women's suffrage campaign in 1917.

From Argentina to Zambia and Haiti to Hong Kong, the 63 newest Americans — 35 women and 28 men — came from a combined 31 countries on five continents.

Some traveled to the United States as children to join family. Others came later in life for education or their career. All searching for their slice of the American dream.

"We have our own mini United Nations here with all the gifts and talents that you've each brought to enrich the great fabric of this place we call America," said A. Kathleen Tomlinson, a U.S. magistrate judge in the Eastern District of New York.

Myrna Pérez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections program at the Brennan Center for Justice in Manhattan, said naturalized American citizens had a better appreciation for American values and how difficult they were to maintain. She said that knowledge came with a special burden.

"And that burden is to teach the rest of Americans that may take it for granted sometimes that we have to charge against despotism, against racism, against fear and against ignorance," said Pérez, whose parents were Mexican immigrants.

Several speakers Tuesday implored the new citizens to exercise their rights and register to vote. But they generally stayed clear of politics. President Donald Trump and his hard-line immigration policies were never directly mentioned. 

"Through our history many people have fought here at home and around the world for this precious right to govern ourselves and choose for us who it is that will lead us," said Federal Bankruptcy Judge Alan Trust, who serves as president of the Eastern District of New York's chapter of the Federal Bar Association. "Please don't take this wonderful right to vote for granted."

Khalangi Gayle, 23, of Baldwin, came to the United States four years ago from Jamaica to study arts and engineering at City College. He hopes his citizenship opens new doors in his career, both producing and performing a blend of reggae and hip-hop music.

"This is a special process," Gayle said. "I am grateful to be a part of it and to embrace it."

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