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Cultures & immigration beat: A glimpse of the new 'Old World'

  • Article by: Allie Shah
  • Star Tribune
  • September 11, 2012 - 11:23 PM

A revelatory moment from last week's supersized naturalization ceremony in Minneapolis came when the judge read off the names of the countries of origin represented in the room and asked people to stand when they heard their native country called.

In all, 1,509 people from 100 countries were sworn in -- the largest single-day ceremony in Minnesota history.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert J. Kressel started with the countries with the smallest numbers.

"Algeria," he announced, scanning the Convention Center floor for the lone person.

Other countries with fewer than a handful of people in the audience included France, Germany, Ireland, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Sweden and Uganda.

As Kressel continued down the list, the groups standing got larger, and the collective "oohs" grew louder. Anticipation was building as the audience waited to learn which nation produced the most new U.S. citizens in Minnesota that day.

When at last the judge called out "Somalia," 344 people rose from their seats, cheering and waving tiny American flags.

The East African country has been near the top of the list for the past several years, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In fiscal year 2011, 2,800 of the 11,044 new U.S. citizens sworn in locally were from Somalia. Laos was No. 2 with 955.

Those positions were the opposite of fiscal year 2003, when Laos had 1,172 and Somalia had 804 people sworn in.

That the largest number of new citizens come from Africa and Asia these days and not from Europe, as in the past, reflects modern immigration patterns in Minnesota that have welcomed waves of refugees from Laos and East Africa.

For the record, here are the remaining countries that topped the list at last week's swearing-in ceremony: Ethiopia, 141; Laos, 101; Liberia, 95; Mexico, 84; Thailand, 66; Vietnam, 65; Kenya, 48; India, 46, China and the Philippines tied at 34 each.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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