Gov. Tim Walz congratulated 40 new U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony on Monday, encouraging them to get involved "in all aspects of civic life."

Immigration is "the strength of this nation," Walz told the crowd gathered in the Capitol rotunda. "That's the strength of this state. Your desire to seek citizenship, to seek naturalization, just made Minnesota just a little bit better today."

Chief federal Judge John Tunheim for the District of Minnesota administered the Oath of Allegiance to the group.

"It was a long wait, and now it's finally done," said Bishara Haji, who came to the United States as a refugee from Somalia in 2012.

She said the citizenship application process took about 2 ½ years. Haji hopes the rest of her family in Somalia can come to the U.S.

In the second quarter of 2018, the latest period for which statistics are available, 2,754 applications for naturalization were approved in the Minnesota office. Another 17,622 applications were pending.

Jorge Ramirez moved to Minnesota from Mexico in 2000 and got his green card six years later. He eventually married a U.S. citizen and had three children; Ramirez works for a wind turbine company and lives with his family in Rochester.

"I didn't realize how important it is to have your citizenship. … In the last three years there have been a lot of changes in the country and that's one of the things that made me put my application in and get it done," said Ramirez, noting that he'll now be able to vote.

During his yearly visits to Mexico, he said he also found himself subject to extra screening while traveling.

"That's another thing that made me apply for my citizenship, so I don't have to go through that. … Being a [green card holder] doesn't give you the same rights, I believe," Ramirez added.