In 'the happiest courtroom' in the state, 18 become US citizens

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STOCKBRIDGE — Denys Escobar has lived in the United States for 25 years. When her green card was up for renewal, she decided that it was time to become a citizen.

"That way, I can vote," she said Friday, before taking her oath of citizenship at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Escobar, of Great Barrington, is one of 18 new citizens who were sworn in by Berkshire Juvenile Court Judge Joan McMenemy on Friday. Families of the new citizens snapped photos of their loved ones with Rockwell's Americana art as the backdrop.

"This is the best courtroom in the commonwealth of Massachusetts today," McMenemy said. "This is the happiest courtroom in the commonwealth of Massachusetts today."

Of the new citizens, 14 had been assisted by the Berkshire Immigrant Center in Pittsfield. Those 11 women and three men live in Pittsfield, Dalton, Lee, Great Barrington, Sheffield, Monterey, Otis and Housatonic. They range in age from 22 to 77.

The Berkshire Immigrant Center clients have come from Scotland, England, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Turkey, Venezuela, Hungary, the Dominican Republic, Denmark and Liberia.

Lorena Dus, a case manager at the center, said that it was, for the most part, smooth sailing to get the clients ready to be sworn in. It generally takes three to five months for their clients to file necessary paperwork, undergo interviews and complete a citizenship exam, Dus said.

One woman who was sworn in Friday had a bumpier road.

The Colombia native has been working for two years to get her citizenship. Because of a disability, though, she was unable to learn enough English to complete the citizenship exam, Dus said.

Eventually, after seeing a doctor for more than a year, the government accepted her diagnosis and allowed her to take the exam in Spanish, Dus said.

"It's a big success for us," she said. "It took a lot of back-and-forth."

Dus said that the swearing-in ceremonies always are rewarding for Berkshire Immigrant Center staff because they have worked with some of the new citizens since they arrived in the country.

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"When you see them up there getting their certificates, you know their stories," she said.

For Escobar, the best part about her citizenship is the prospect of bringing her mother from Venezuela to the United States. She has tried to visit her mother regularly, but with the current state of political unrest, she hasn't seen her in over a year. In the coming weeks, Escobar will be returning to the Berkshire Immigrant Center to see what their options are.

"It's hard for her to get a visa," Escobar said. "The situation in Venezuela is very bad."

Aninnie Harris and her husband, Kolubah, also have gone too long without seeing their parents.

Kolubah Harris moved to the United States from Liberia in 2004, but it took nearly 10 years for him to be able to get his citizenship and bring his wife and daughter to the United States.

On Friday, Aninnie Harris was sworn in as a citizen.

"To get my family here was a long time," Kolubah Harris said. "I took off work. I had to be here to support my wife."

Now that the couple and their daughter are all citizens, they might take time to visit their parents in Liberia.

In her speech Friday, McMenemy said that she, like many in the room, is the grandchild of people who immigrated to the United States for a better life.

Citizenship, she said, comes with responsibilities. She thinks one of those responsibilities is to be kind to others, despite political, religious or cultural differences.

"In the end, we are more alike than we are different," she told the room.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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