CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The debate over immigration is front and center right now. On Wednesday, dozens of immigrants from all over the world became U.S. citizens. They all say though it's a long and expensive process, it's worth the wait.
Fifty-one immigrants from 27 countries took the Oath of Allegiance and are finally official U.S. citizens.
"I'm very happy; I wait for about 10 years, so I'm very happy," said Greyban Saenz from Nicaragua.
From Nicaragua to The Congo, these longtime Charlotte residents have put in the time and work to call America home. For Rachel Ilunga it's been a 13-year process.
"Very excited and very relieved. It's a great opportunity, I think sometimes people don't realize how big it is," said Ilunga.
And she says going through the legal process was worth the wait.
"I really strongly believe in doing things the right way, like my dad came and in spite of everything, worked hard and made sure he did the immigration process correctly," said Ilunga.
For the first time in a naturalization ceremony, U.S. Congressman Robert Pittenger attended and spoke to the new citizens about the benefit of following the legal process in times of hot immigration debate.
"We take in around 10,000 to 12,000 people in North Carolina every year through Raleigh and Charlotte, about 6,000 a piece, so certainly there's a need for it," said Congressman Pittenger.
For Maria Ximena the new status means getting to bring family over from Chile.
"Because I want my mom with me, I'm here alone so I want to have her beside me," said Ximena.
Not to mention opening doors for new employment.
"I think opportunities for me are going to be better ‘cause some jobs you look and they require you to be a citizen," said Ximena.
It's not a cheap process, but the new citizens say it's worth it.
"First I get the right to vote. So that's good, and traveling will definitely be easier and I feel like I fit in now," said Ilunga.
During the past year the United States Citizen Immigration Services has helped more than 640,000 immigrants become U.S. citizens.