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New U.S. citizens eager to vote

September 27, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Frankie Tan wants to vote.

A native of Malaysia, Tan decided to become a United States citizen so he could vote in this year's presidential election.

"Everyone who has an opinion should vote," said Tan, who has lived in the United States for 20 years.

Tan, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., was among nearly 60 people from 26 nations who on Friday morning in a federal building in Martinsburg, W.Va., took the oath of allegiance for new citizens.

"I'm so proud," said Ann Harkins, Tan's wife of 14 years. At least 10 people from Berkeley Springs attended the ceremony, she said.


Friends and family members of the new citizens took pictures and video as they were presented with their citizenship certificates.

One little boy in the audience called "Hi, Daddy" and waved when a man's name was announced.

Shortly after the ceremony, several of the new citizens crowded into a small courtroom to register to vote. They are eligible to vote in this year's Nov. 4 general election.

"It's the only country I've found where the sky is the limit," said Hilda Campbell, originally from England.

Of her nine children, all are American citizens, three are serving in the military and one plans to join the Marine Corps soon, Campbell said.

She spent a lot of time traveling the world as a military wife, Campbell said.

"No other country is greater than America," she said shortly after registering to vote.

"I hear lots of Americans moan ... I wish more of these people that moan would travel and see what they have," Campbell said.

Her father, Kenneth Darnell, watched Campbell take the oath Friday.

Though he still lives in England, Darnell said he plans to sell his home there and become a permanent resident of the United States.

"America is a great country," Ferdnard Asamoah said as he filled out his voter registration papers.

"It's a great nation to be in," said Asamoah, who came to the United States from Ghana.

He plans to vote in November, and "with the economy so bad, I'm going with the Democrats," Asamoah said.

Local attorney Mark Jenkinson, a naturalized citizen, was the keynote speaker for Friday's ceremony. Jenkinson, a native of England, wasn't looking for a better place to live, but he found one, he said.

Jenkinson took the oath in October 2001, when America was a nation in crisis. Seven years later, America is again a nation in crisis, Jenkinson said.

But that is when the country is at its finest, he said.

"You should be proud you're becoming American citizens not when America is riding high but when times are hard," he said.

Jenkinson also reminded the new citizens about the upcoming election.

"On Nov. 4, you have to go out to vote," he said. "I don't care if you're Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians or vegetarians."

Following the 2000 election, when the presidential race was decided by "a few hundred votes in Florida," Jenkinson learned how important each vote is, and that's when he decided to become a citizen, he said.

The process of becoming a citizen usually takes six to nine months from when someone is eligible to apply, said Thomas Davidson, an immigration officer with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Usually, people must be permanent residents for five years before they can apply, although there are exceptions, Davidson said.

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