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Judge Offers Lesson In U.S. Citizenship

U.S. district judge swears in 70 immigrants from more than 30 countries as U.S. citizens, the first time a naturalization ceremony is held on the grounds in the cemetery's 144-year history.

The day began like many others in the courtroom of Ellis, who was appointed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan. Ellis has handled many high-profile cases, including that of John Walker Lindh, the Californian who fought for the Taliban, and of two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who are accused of conspiring to obtain classified information and pass it to members of the press and the Israeli government.

"All rise. . . . the honorable United States district judge," the clerk called out as Ellis strode forward. He spoke at a podium -- there was no bench -- and conveyed that this was no ordinary day in court.

"Today, you will become part of this country, and like two centuries of immigrants who have come to this country, you will enrich this country with your talents, your energy and your industry," Ellis said.

U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg made a motion that the court grant the name changes, and Ellis agreed. "All four of my grandparents were immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants, and so the opportunity to welcome some more is one I couldn't pass up," Rosenberg said before the ceremony.

The clerk administered the citizenship oath as cameras flashed, and then Ellis led the cheers. "Congratulations to all of you new Americans," he said before imploring the new citizens to register to vote with two women wearing American flag T-shirts.

U.S. Army Sgt. Nicholas Richards led the Pledge of Allegiance. "I've been serving in the military for nine years, and it's nice to finally say I'm an American," said Richards, a native of Jamaica who applied for citizenship while serving in Iraq.

Gary Thomas of Reston said it was "amazing" to watch his wife, Amina, take the oath. She came to the United States from Morocco in 2000 and had been a lawful permanent resident. Their three young children sat nearby, waving American flags.

"We have a group of new citizens in a place where previous citizens have given their lives and are remembered," he said.

"I want to cry," his wife said. "It feels wonderful."

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