Our Newest Citizens

Inside an emotional naturalization ceremony in New York City

Video by James Autery for TIME | Text by Alana Abramson

Horrendous winter weather would not stop 141 people from gathering at New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Federal Building on March 2. They had worked towards this day for years — the day when they would become Americans — and a Nor’easter was just one more obstacle to overcome.

Hailing from more than 40 countries, the group represented only a handful of those who will be naturalized in 2018. About 740,000 people undergo the process every year, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Many of them do so in New York, a city with a celebrated history of welcoming foreigners into the country.

Becoming an American citizen is no easy task. It takes a minimum of three years to become naturalized. Some of the participants had lived in the United States for decades. Those who do so must prove their mastery of U.S. history, government and the English language. The civics test can be difficult even for people born in America, requiring knowledge of everything from the workings of the federal government to how to file taxes. And applicants must prove they are of “good moral character.” Those who undergo the grueling process can serve as a reminder of the value that citizenship holds for all Americans.

Rodrigo Aguilera, a computer engineer in the New York group, has lived in the U.S. for nearly a decade. The Chile-born Aguilera said his son convinced him to seek citizenship to ensure his future in America.

“He always said, ‘I don’t want you to go, I want you to stay with me,’” said Aguilera. “Now I can tell him, ‘You have your dad for a long time in the U.S.A.’”

Here, TIME meets some of the newest Americans.

James Autery is an artist based outside of New York City. Follow him on instagram @jamesautery.

Alana Abramson is a reporter at time. Follow her on twitter @aabramson.

josh raab IS a multimedia editor at time. follow him on instagram @instagraabit.

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