UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- Two hundred new Americans were welcomed to their new home country in a naturalization ceremony in Manhattan Friday.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas presided over the special ceremony held at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Soprano Harolyn Blackwell and a brass quintet from the New York Philharmonic performed the National Anthem.
Mayorkas shared that his mother fled Romania during World War II and couldn't get to the U.S., so she ended up in Cuba where she met his father and had two children.
"Tomorrow would be the 91st birthday of my father, who brought my mother, my sister, and me to this country in 1960 following the communist takeover of Cuba," he said. "I was naturalized in the early 1970s."
Mayorkas said this country is better because of its new citizens -- who come from 46 different countries and represent every continent -- and the ones that will follow.
In honor of Citizenship Day and Constitution Day, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will welcome 21,000 new citizens at 335 ceremonies across the country between September 17 and 23.
Miguel Puin, an immigrant from Colombia who waited years to become an American, was among those who took the solemn oath.
"I was thinking about my family and what we did and how we suffered to come to this country as immigrants," he said. "It's not easy, you know? It's not easy to come here and start from zero. It's very hard at the beginning, but little by little, with time, everything comes out."
He is one of more than 800,000 immigrants who will become US citizens this year.
Ana Milosavljevic is a musician from Serbia.
"It's just wonderful," she said. "It just feels like at home. That's what it feels like, being American-being at home, being free to be who you are."
Evon Andrews is civil engineer from Grenada who served as a lance corporal in the US Marines, defending the United States even before he became a citizen of it.
"My wife is here, she's pregnant, she's due in November," he said. "So we're having a son, and I'm looking forward to raising my family as, you know, a US citizen. And this is my home."
The United States has more immigrants than any other nation in the world, as some 40 million Americans were born somewhere else -- roughly 14% of the total US population, the highest percentage of immigrants in more than a century.
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