One of them worked with the U.S. Army in Baghdad. One arrived here as a 12-year-old boy, the voices of his classmates indecipherable. One traveled across the Pacific Ocean, met a man and married.
These journeys to the United States brought nearly 100 immigrants to Chattanooga's federal courthouse Thursday to swear an oath and join the ranks of U.S. citizens.
Mustafa Freeman, 30, worked as an interpreter with military engineers in Iraq. At one point he was kidnapped and held by terrorists for 10 days because of his work with Americans.
He moved to the United States in 2008 under a special visa and since has opened a laundry service in Knoxville.
"To be a citizen, it's a great feeling. For me, I'm proud to be an American citizen," he said. "I worked with the Army, so I know what citizenship means."
Manueal Martinez, 30, left Mexico City at age 12 to live here. Some of his family already had traveled to this country while others stayed in Mexico.
It was challenging at first. He was away from home and didn't speak the language.
But he now speaks fluent English, holds a bachelor's degree in business and is completing a graduate degree in business. He has lived in Tennessee for seven years.
"Some people may take it lightly when [the judge] said, 'I can't aspire to be president but your children can,'" Martinez. "I have a bachelor's degree, working on a master's degree. I would expect my children to go even farther than that."
Belinda Moore, 41, left her native Philippines in 2006 and came to the United States. She met and married her husband and wanted to start the citizenship application process, but health problems became a higher priority.
She applied three years ago and was approved this year.
"I'm very happy right now. I'm free," she said, laughing.
U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier told a packed courtroom filled with 46 new citizens and their families Thursday morning that they were part of a long line of immigrants who came to this country and helped make it great.
"Starting afresh has been a large part of its experiment at self-governance," Collier told the crowd. "Work hard. Work hard in your new home, for your new home. Support her and defend her."
The Choo-Choo Chorus sang, the Soddy-Daisy High School JROTC marched with the flag and many cameras flashed as groups huddled in the courtroom around a friend or relative holding a very important piece of paper -- a Certificate of Citizenship.
Less than an hour later the courtroom would be filled again as a second round of new citizens, possibly 51 if everyone braved the rain, would take their oaths.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...