SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Fifty people became U.S. citizens Friday during the first in-person naturalization ceremony in Sioux Falls since the pandemic. The ceremony at the Washington Pavilion marked the end of a long journey toward citizenship that included overcoming the hardships of COVID-19.

“Give me your tired, your poor…”

They come from different countries. From different cultures. Speak different languages. But starting today, they all share a common bond: being a U.S. citizen.

“I like this country, I like Sioux Falls, too,” Fatma Gido Babiker Ahmed of Sioux Falls said.

Some of these newly naturalized citizens came here to find work and start a family.

“I’ve been working here and there, I got kids, they grow up, they live in Kansas, two girls, two boys and I live in Aberdeen,” Salvador Castrejon said.

This is the first naturalization ceremony open to the public since COVID, marking a turning point for many of these citizens in dealing with the pandemic.

“It’s been tough. But honestly, now it feels amazing that watch these people around, they don’t wear masks anymore, so it’s kind of given us a little bit of freedom,” Danica Schauer of Sioux Falls said.

The ceremony featured a message of unity to the new citizens.

“We have so much in common that things that separate us. We share a common humanity, we share a devotion to our families,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Veronica Duffy said.

The League of Women Voters set up a booth here for the new citizens to register and exercise their most cherished right to vote.

“It is very important for me, I get to choose which one I think is better for the representative,” Schauer said.

It’s too late for these newly registered voters to vote in next week’s city election. But they’re looking forward to voting later in the primary and general elections; carrying out their civic duties and responsibilities as new citizens of the United States.

The fifty new citizens came from 26 different countries.