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Opportunity beckons newly minted Americans

3,414 take oath at the TD Garden

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By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / September 1, 2011

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Some arrived here with just the clothes on their backs and stories of war and persecution in their homeland. Others met Americans living and working abroad, fell in love, and started a family. Others simply decided to follow the American Dream.

“I shed tears of happiness,’’ Victor Peter Mammy, 61, of Weymouth, said moments after he and 3,413 others took the Oath of Allegiance during a US naturalization ceremony at the TD Garden yesterday.

“It’s a once-in-a-life opportunity. I came from a war-torn country, Liberia, as a refugee five years ago, and now I’m a citizen of the greatest country on earth,’’ Mammy said.

A long line started forming at noon, and by 12:30 p.m., it extended outside. The candidates for citizenship were led up a flight of stairs to stations where they checked in. They were then seated and the ceremony started at 1 p.m.

People from Albania, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Zaire took part in the ceremony, but the largest contingent of newly sworn citizens hailed from Brazil. Five members of the US military became citizens.

The ceremony lasted about an hour, ending with the issuance of certificates of naturalization.

The word “opportunity’’ was on the tongues of most, and was invoked several times by US District Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf, who presided over most of the ceremony and administered the oath.

“You waited, you worked hard, you studied for a challenging exam and you passed, and today you become American citizens,’’ Wolf told the crowd.

An average of 30,293 immigrants have become naturalized every year for the past 10 years in Massachusetts, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics.

Last year, 30,169 took the oath. The highest number was in 2006, with 35,558, and the lowest was in 2003, with 20,127.

“Marriage brought me here,’’ said Haticha Eisenberg, 39, from Turkmenistan in Central Asia.

As she held her 1-year-old daughter, Salima, Eisenberg said she met her future husband, Nathan Eisenberg, while he was a Peace Corps volunteer in her homeland in 2003.

“We worked together for two years, but he left and I couldn’t decide about marriage. After six months, he was calling me every day. We talked and we decided to get married.’’

She had to wait until 2007 to receive a K-1, or fiancee visa, to enter the United States. The family now lives in Newton.

“I always wanted to be a doctor, but in my country there was no opportunity. Here, you can have a career, you can change,’’ said Haticha Eisenberg, who earned a master’s degree in English and German in Turkmenistan.

“I started nursing school and in two years, I’ll be an R.N.,’’ she said. “The opportunity is here in the United States. In Turkmenistan, it would never happen.

Jeirson Tavares wants a double career. The 21-year-old from Cape Verde, off the west coast of Africa, said he has dreamed of being an American citizen since he was little.

“When I came here several years ago, it was for a better life and for better schools,’’ he said. “Right now, I’m a landscaper and a part-time barber, but I want to become a physician and a professional soccer player.’’

As the crowd headed home as new US citizens, they were met by dozens of people in the hallway, handing out information on passports and voting.

“Would you like to register to vote?’’ a man holding a clipboard asked a woman walking by at a brisk pace. She stopped and turned around.

“Sign me up,’’ she said.

Brian R. Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on twitter at @globeballou