Schwarzenegger Welcomes New Citizens
MICHELLE MORGANTE
Associated Press

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - More than 200 U.S. Marines and sailors became U.S. citizens in a ceremony Friday at which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised them and led the crowd in a long round of applause.

"By choice you came to this land. By choice you are fighting for this country, and that is extraordinary," the Austrian-born governor said.

The 185 men and 22 women who took the oath of citizenship emigrated from 43 countries. All serve at Navy and Marine Corps bases in Southern California.

Many of the newly sworn citizens said they were pleased that their new status would open opportunities such as government jobs and educational programs. But several said they have always been proud to fight for the United States, even when they didn't have the right to vote.

"I grew up here and this is what I've known as my home. ... A lot of my friends didn't realize I wasn't a citizen," said 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Maximiliano Ramirez Luna, who was a toddler when his family left Mexico and settled in Santa Barbara.

"I've been to Iraq, and I've been deployed to other places and I wasn't a citizen," he said. "And now I'm being deployed as a U.S. citizen."

Legal permanent residents, such as the children of green-card holders, have always been allowed to join the military and pursue full citizenship after three years of active service. But an executive order signed by President Bush in July 2002 allowed anyone on active duty after Sept. 11, 2001, to immediately apply for citizenship.

Legal residents not in the military are required to live in the United States at least five years before they can apply for citizenship