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Citizenship ceremony kicks off immigration conference

At a ceremony in the shadow of Camden Yards, 48 new Americans made it their first act as citizens to pledge allegiance to a flag flapping in a stiff afternoon breeze.

The recently minted citizens, who just moments before had renounced and abjured all fidelity to any foreign princes and potentates, were reminded by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown of their new responsibilities as Americans — to get out and vote and be active members of their community.

"You worked hard for citizenship, and you deserve it," Brown told the group.

The ceremony was held to open the National Immigrant Integration Conference, a four-day event in Baltimore that brings together government officials and business leaders from across the country to work out how to best fit immigrants into American society.

Gustavo Torres, the executive director of Latino organization CASA de Maryland and a chairman of the conference, said a particular area of interest in Maryland is the relationship between African-Americans and new arrivals.

"When the economy is difficult, of course you don't have jobs. There's tension," he said.

But Torres added that, in general, African-Americans in Maryland are supportive of pro-immigrant policies such as the DREAM Act, which would offer residency to young undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for a long time.

The new citizens are a diverse bunch, coming from Austria, Zimbabwe and points between.

One of them, Helen Elliott, an artist from Jamaica, came to the United States in 1993 and has lived in Baltimore for 11 years. She produces art using enamel on metal, usually working on large pieces such as murals, but on Saturday she was wearing earrings she had made.

"Being a citizen gives you the opportunity to do everything to become a part of the whole," Elliott said. Her next job: registering to vote in time for November's elections.

Elliott would have become a citizen earlier but had to have a kidney transplant in 2010.

"It just put everything else on the back burner," she said.

The Rev. Chandran Jayakumar Lite became a citizen along with his wife, Roda Chandran, and his son, Chris Jacob Lite.

Lite is the pastor of Indians for Christ, a church in Rockville. Coming to America has brought him closer to God, Lite said, because he has had the opportunity to meet many more Christians.

Lite said becoming a citizen is a way for him to show that he shares American values.

"It's a great and God-given moment to me and my family," he said.

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