Malak Hamad can't wait to exercise her right to vote. As of this Friday, she finally can.
Hamad, a Dearborn resident who moved to the U.S. from Lebanon in 2004, was one of about 250 people who took the final steps to becoming a U.S. citizen Friday at Dearborn's Byblos Banquet Hall.
"I'm so happy," she said after taking her oath of citizenship. "I can finally vote. The first thing I'm going to do is register to vote."
Doing just that, along with taking steps to get a passport and other rights of citizenship, were services offered to the people who became citizens at the ceremony in Dearborn on Friday.
It's a ceremony celebrated by Byblos owner Joe Bazzi, who has donated his banquet hall free of charge for the events for the past four years.
Bazzi, a longtime Dearborn resident who opened the hall in 2005, became a U.S. citizen in the 1980s. He said that watching the ceremony reminds him of the importance of calling oneself an American.
"It's really an honor (to donate my banquet hall)," he said. "It's the least I can do."
According to the Office of Immigration Statistics, nearly one million people become naturalized American citizens each year. Though the Dearborn area tends to see more immigrants from the Middle East, the majority of overall U.S. immigrants come from Mexico, accounting for 22.2 percent of all immigrants, according to 2008 statistics.
”Some of you have come through situations that we can only read about, or witness on the television; you have actually lived it."
At the ceremony in Dearborn on Friday, officials said that new citizens at the event came from nearly 30 different countries. But all had one goal in mind: taking advantage of the job opportunities, voting rights and other privileges afforded to U.S. citizens.
Along with certified social security cards, new residents at the ceremony–hosted by Dearborn nonprofit ACCESS and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Citizenship and Immigration Services–were instructed on how to get passports, and how to vote.
The latter was a privilege stressed by ACCESS Executive Director Hassan Jaber.
"As new citizens, I urge you to get involved in your communities," he said. "Citizenship is not a piece of paper … citizenship is engagement. It's about community. It’s about building a future. It's about building a better society."
Jaber welcomed all new citizens to seek out services at ACCESS, from job placement to learning English to health services.
“Consider ACCESS your support now that you’re beginning a new life in the U.S.,” he said.
And though the offices of Citizenship and immigration Services see hundreds of thousands of people starting those new lives every year, Lisa Jones with the Detroit offices assured that every story is an inspiring one.
"I have sat at my desk and I have congratulated each of you, but I have also cried," she said. "We as Americans take for granted our privileges having been born here. But some of you have really come through some situations that we can only read about, or witness on the television; some of you have actually lived it.
"Look at where you are today," she added. "You have made it."