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Orem • Daniel Webster of Orem has an all-American name, but was born in England. He celebrated July Fourth a day early Thursday by becoming a U.S. citizen with immigrants from a dozen other countries as hundreds of Utahns cheered.
"It's like Christmas," he said with tears moistening his eyes and choking off his words. "Most of my friends always just assumed I was a citizen, but I wasn't. This is special, especially for July Fourth. Now I can vote. Now I can participate."
As part of America's Freedom Festival celebrations in Scera Park, a special ceremony gave the oath of allegiance to 15 new citizens each holding a small American flag from Bhutan, Canada, Chile, China, Finland, Mexico, Nepal, the Netherlands, Panama, Somalia, Tonga, the United Kingdom and Western Samoa.
It was one of 100 naturalization ceremonies nationwide to swear in 9,000 new citizens organized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the extended Independence Day holiday.
Those sworn in Thursday range from war refugees to those who came to join family, escape poverty or simply seek freedom and opportunity.
Webster came as a 2-year-old when his father was a university student, "and we just sort of stuck." He says America gave him and his family extra opportunity.
"I went to the University of Utah. I became a pharmacist, and opened up a pharmacy here in Orem," he says. "I would not have been able to do any of that if I had not come here."
He said he finally wanted to join his wife and four children as a full citizen and show thanks "for my opportunity for a better life."
Khada Dulal was born in Nepal to Hem and Hema Dulal, who had fled there as refugees from a war in Bhutan. The three became citizens together Thursday.
In Nepal, "We had to walk two miles to get clean water, and then the lines were long and we had to wait a long time. Then we had to walk two miles back," Khada says.
"We lived in a bamboo hut with mud floors, and we had newspaper on the walls. The United Nations would give us rations only every 15 days," and they could only find-low paying work, if any, he said.
America welcomed them as refugees, he said, and they now have regular jobs, a nice home and plenty to eat. Khada, a junior at the University of Utah studying nursing, says, "This is an awesome place."
Emilia Huebsch of Saratoga Springs immigrated from Panama 10 years ago "to marry my husband," whom she met when he was an LDS missionary in her native country. They now have two children, Donovan and Damon.
She said she wanted to join the others in her family "so we are all Americans." Huebsch also was excited the ceremony occurred around Independence Day because "I love the history" of her new nation.
Paul Brouwer of Spanish Fork immigrated as a teenager from the Netherlands, brought by a father who works for the LDS Church and was relocated here.
He is now an LDS seminary teacher, and said, "I've grown some roots here. My wife is from the United States. My kids were born here. I want this to be my home. It's the promised land" that's allowed him to chase his dreams.
Jamal Jama came as a refugee from war-torn Somalia.
"We have a far better life here," he says. While finding food was difficult, it is plentiful here. Life is safe and far from the war he fled. He has steady work as a forklift operator, and earns a good living.
"I do not know what would have happened to us" if they had not been able to immigrate to America, he said. "Thank God we're here."