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NEW BEDFORD — Francisco Lopes Pereira has lived in the United States for about 30 years. The 65-year-old from Cape Verde has a car. He’s also a homeowner.

A single sheet of paper, though, surpassed it all Friday within the Immigrants Assistance Center. It was Lopes Pereira’s certificate of naturalization.

“The citizenship is the last one. I think I made it. Thank, God,” he said ending the thought with a laugh that stretched his smile from ear to ear.

He represented 28 people who became American citizens on the second floor of 58 Crapo St. center. Family and friends filled the room for a moment that caused some to tear up.

Prior to the ceremony, a representative from Homeland Security addressed those in attendance at the front of the room and commented on the beautiful sunshine that welcomed their citizenship.

Toward the back of the room, Ana Vieira, 28, who arrived in New Bedford 14 years ago from Portugal, responded to the woman sitting next to her, “It’s the American dream.”

This story first appeared in the Standart-Times – HERE

Judge Sharon E. Donatelle spoke first saying it was an honor and a privilege to address the nation’s newest citizens.

“We in this country value our diversity and all of the differences so many of us have, that you have brought and that we have all brought that will enrich communities,” Donatelle said

Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn III, who attended his first naturalization ceremony, followed Donatelle and echoed the sentiment.

“Immigrants have made this country great,” he said. “As Judge Donatelle said, ‘Diversity is what made this country great.’”

The current rhetoric on the federal level wasn’t lost on some who earned their citizenship. The words from judges and elected officials praising their diversity added to the moment.

“Immigrants just don’t feel welcome. You see a lot of racism going on, a lot of xenophobia, a lot of things like that. You don’t’ feel welcome,” Vieira said. “So when you come to something like this and you feel welcome, then you’re like, ‘OK it’s not everywhere.’ It’s a selected few that are louder than everybody else.”

Helena DaSilva Hughes and Quinn each emphasized the right to vote as one of the most important rights bestowed upon the 28 individuals.

Vieira nodded in agreement.

“We contribute. We work. We pay taxes. We pay health insurance. We do everything else, but we can’t vote. So when we come to this, it’s like, ‘OK, now I have a say,’” Vieira said. ”…So that’s kind of what made me go for this and do it all the way.”

Lopes Pereira began his path to citizenship years ago, he said. Vieira started what she described as a long and expensive journey five years ago.

Both came to the United States in pursuit of a better life.

When Lopes Pereira left Cape Verde, he said one needed wealth to afford an education. He believed the United States would offer him whatever he wanted as long as he worked.

“Here, I can do whatever I wish for, what I work for. You can accomplish that through hard work,” Lopes Pereira said. “This country will help you. This is the American dream.”

Vieira’s American dream began as a 14-year-old when her parents brought her here for a better life. She enrolled in New Bedford schools and graduated from the high school.

“It’s been a process. I went through high school, everything here. It’s been my city. It’s my second home,” Vieira paused for a brief second. “Well, now my first home.”

This story first appeared in the Standart-Times – HERE