New U.S. citizens discuss immigration crisis


New U.S. citizens discuss immigration crisis

MISSOULA, Mont. - NBC Montana is tracking the latest on the immigration crisis.

President Obama's plan to keep Central American children from flooding into the U.S. is running into trouble. Lawmakers were told Thursday that federal agencies coping with this immigration surge are burning through their budgets. They'll likely need the $4 billion the president has requested.

The crisis along the border can be felt even in western Montana and has many worried. It wasn't far from the minds of new citizens that NBC Montana talked with on Thursday at a naturalization ceremony held at the federal courthouse in Missoula, but it was also a time to celebrate new beginnings.

Salvador and Noemi Santos are used to celebrating together -- they've been married for 48 years. But this time is special.

"I'm now on the land of the free, so I'm free. I'm an American," said new U.S. citizen Noemi Santos, who is originally from Mexico.

She's not alone. Noemi is one of 29 immigrants sworn in Thursday as new U.S. citizens.

"I'm proud to now be an American citizen and have the future of my passport and travel and show, 'Oh, I'm an American citizen!'" said new U.S. citizen Raquel Gonzales, who's originally from Argentina.

"Just like whoa, I made it, I finally did it!" said new U.S. citizen Ingrid Ginoff, originally from Colombia.

But 2,000 miles from the quiet courtroom in Missoula, the U.S. struggles to cope with a crisis. Tens of thousands of undocumented children from Central America are stuck at the U.S. border.

For Salvador and Noemi, it's a tragedy with no easy solution.

"Those children are victims, themselves. You know stories, they are coming on their way and teenagers are raped and they are abused and many other ways. I don't want that to happen. It's not the first time it's ever happened and it probably won't be the last, but it's not right," said Salvador Santos.

Salvador and his wife are quick to point that they became Americans the legal way.

"It's not right. Kids belong to their parents and they are to stay with their parents and family. If they want to come to this country, they've got to do it the way the American does it," said Noemi Santos.

But despite the turmoil happening along the southern border, the naturalization ceremony is about one thing -- being a new U.S. citizen and being free.

"It's not just an emotional moment or a terrific moment. It is the beginning of something higher," said Salvador Santos.

More than 40 million immigrants live in the United States. In Montana, it's estimated that about 2 percent of the state's population was born outside of the U.S.

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