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Editorial: Citizenship event for new Americans affirms the importance of our freedoms

For the 26 Buffalo-area residents sworn in as U.S. citizens the other day, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are not simply words written by one of the Founding Fathers.

The phrase holds deep significance for these new citizens, some of whom fled terrible conditions in their native lands and sought an opportunity to begin again.

There was renewed spirit of optimism shared among the fledgling citizens following the hourlong ceremony at Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic site. Interviewed by The News’ Gene Warner, some spoke of hard times in their native lands and their appreciation and love for their new homeland.

In the United States, they will be able to savor without fear the freedoms natural-born Americans are privileged to expect: freedom to worship, speak and assemble. And, let’s not forget, the opportunity to attain an education and find a good job to support a family.

The rights we take for granted and sometimes try to limit can amaze the foreign-born. Sergey Aponchuk, 22, knows that here his opinion matters and he can “do something about it.” The former Ukrainian, who came to Buffalo in 2005 to join family members, told The News’ Warner: “I can vote. I can put my word out there, too. And it makes me feel safer. They’re not going to send me back to Ukraine for some reason.”

Marty Biron, a Quebec native and former Sabres goalie, now a talk-show host, announcer and “goaltending guru,” also spoke about the joys of voting and being able to influence this country’s direction. Most touching, he spoke about acting as a model for his four children.

Biron expressed curiosity at the stories of his new fellow citizens. He relished the differences among them and the commonality in their desire to settle here and become a part of the fabric of America.

Perhaps most interesting from some was the understanding about President Trump’s proposed travel ban. Aponchuk, although no “fan of the ban,” said officials should “do more investigation of the people with a bad background.”

The proposed ban burdens the heart of Sue Meh, 54, from Burma, showing that the new citizens are making use of their ability to speak freely. Here in America, varying opinions are allowed and encouraged.

The contributions from these new citizens hold promise for this region and nation. These new Americans have sought and earned citizenship and, as we have for countless others before them, should be welcomed with open arms.

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