SALT LAKE CITY — Ali Fadhil sits under the sprawling rotunda of the Utah Capitol. A bright white folder on his lap.
Today is the big day. Today the 28-year-old becomes an American.
Living in Iraq "in the middle of the war," Fadhil wanted to find opportunity elsewhere.
"There was no hope, no future," he said. "It was not safe at all. I decided to save my life."
His uncle lives in Utah and he visited here in 2012. That's when he realized what he needed to do.
"It gave me a good hope, a good future," Fadhil said. "And a good chance for life."
Fadhil and 109 others from 41 countries — ranging from Somalia, Thailand and Australia — gathered in the Capitol Friday morning, about to become part of something they’ve dreamed of for countless years.
"You are now American citizens," proclaimed Laura McNeer, field office director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, after conducting the oath of allegiance for the new Americans.
Applause broke out from behind the new citizens — family members and friends eager to welcome new Americans, and new Utahns.
“I’ve been a U.S. citizen in my heart for the longest time,” said Kelly Golding, who immigrated from Brazil. “I’m just making it official.”
Golding is here with her husband and four children, who were all born in the United States. Now, she said, she's catching up.
"I was an exchange student when I was 18 — I just out of the blue decided to come to the U.S.," she said with her daughter, Emma, 3, on her lap.
After attending American Fork High School, she considered going back to Brazil to attend college.
"I decided to come here because it's a lot more prestigious to get a degree from the U.S.," Golding said. "So then I came here and met my husband in college and I ended up staying."
Four kids and 17 years later, she said, it's time to make her American life official.
"I've traveled all over the world," she said. "The best thing about traveling is coming back and seeing this beautiful country. There's nothing in the world like the U.S."
Both Fadhil and Golding said their official process took about a year. For others, it may have taken longer. On Friday, though, all that mattered was they were here.
"I can honestly say these are my favorite official events I do," said U.S. Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah. "This is a great day, give yourself a hand."
Love joined state Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, to lead the ceremony.
"I know that for many of you, this has been a long process," Thurston said. "I hope that you will leave here today knowing that you are part of the fabric that makes this country great."
Local business owner and recent immigrant from the United Kingdom, Chris Mann, served as the keynote speaker. Recounting some of the speed bumps that they may encounter as new citizens, Mann told Friday's crowd of his first experience at a McDonald's drive-thru.
"I was asking for a water," he said. "And they kept asking what I was saying, over and over."
"So finally, I said, 'Can I have a water,'" Mann said, accentuating a cartoony American twang, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
As the ceremony ended, immigration officials stepped through the crowd, handing out ornate certificates — representing far more than the replaceable paper they're printed on.
Fadhil finally has one in his hands, he just needs to sign it. But, for now, all he can do is smile.