LOS ANGELES — Thousands of immigrants from more than 100 countries pledged allegiance to the United States on Friday.
The new citizens included 23 servicemen and women who received enthusiastic applause from the crowd, which displayed its patriotism by waving small flags and praised America's war to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"I don't know why they left him until now," said Khajik Haroian, 65, who came to the United States from Baghdad six years ago.
"My feeling of gratitude to our troops is so deep," said Ann Claire Van Shaick Pahlavi, who was born in Tehran. "I feel such gratitude for their willingness to fight for my freedom. If only for that I'm proud to come here today."
In all, more than 7,500 immigrants were to be sworn in during the day's two mass citizenship ceremonies at the Sports Arena, which temporarily served as a federal court for the occasion.
The oath was administered to the first group by U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feess, who made special remarks for the military personnel who became citizens.
"Freedom comes with a price," Feess said. "I salute them and their willingness to sacrifice their individual objectives in the short run for the long-term objectives of their country."
Leroy Alveranga, an Army specialist, said he had no doubts about serving his new country.
"It's all about what you promised to do, defend the Constitution of the United States," said Alveranga, who was born in Jamaica. "It's not about where you are from, it's about where you live."
Most of the new citizens came from Mexico, followed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea and Iran. Mirna Franco, who is from Guatemala, said her husband, Armin, is serving in the Marines.
"We are proud to be Americans," she said. "Yet, it's sad to think about the human lives that are being lost on both sides."
The new citizens for the most part expressed strong support for America's war in Iraq.
"For one stupid guy like Saddam a lot of innocent people will die," said Pravin Patel, 45, from India. "We had to do something. He's a crazy guy."