You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Dozens sworn in as citizens Saturday

Central Texas welcomed 28 newly-minted American citizens Saturday in a ceremony held on World Refugee Day at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in downtown Austin.

The men and women came from 11 different countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma and Sierra Leone. Many wore colorful traditional clothing. Some were circumspect, while others were brimming with excitement as they received their certificates of citizenship.

“I feel awesome,” said David Phan, 29, who was born in Vietnam and became a citizen Saturday. “I’ve always felt like an American, but this just makes it official.”

Phan, a human resources professional, moved to the U.S. with his parents and siblings when he was 3 years old. All four of his siblings were born in the U.S or have become naturalized. His mother took the oath earlier this year in California, he said. He was the last member of the family to change his status from permanent resident to citizen.

“It means to belong, to finally have a true home,” Phan said. “The ability to vote is big. I’ve always had opinions. I’ve just never been able to express them in that way.”

In addition to the naturalization ceremony, local refugees and members of the public were invited to a reception to share their cultures through music, food and dancing.

“It’s important to have a day where refugees can have fun,” said Celia VanDeGraaf, executive director of the Center for Survivors of Torture, one of the groups that hosted Austin’s World Refugee Day. “It’s important for refugees to meet each other and experience each other’s cultures.”

Refugees, and survivors of torture in particular, can feel isolated, VanDeGraaf said. The center provides free mental health counseling, training, social and medical services and legal referrals to those escaping human rights abuses in their countries.

Several organizations that serve the refugee community — including Caritas of Austin, Interfaith Action of Central Texas, Refugee Services of Texas, Multicultural Refugee Coalition and Amala Foundation — were instrumental in putting the celebration together and were on hand to offer information to attendees.

According to figures provided by the Center for Survivors of Torture, 5,423 refugees and asylum-seekers have come to Texas so far this year, a 40 percent increase from the same period last year. Most of them come from Iraq, Burma, Cuba, Bhutan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. That doesn’t count the number of people who are awaiting courts to grant them asylum status.

The center expects another influx of women and children refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo in the coming months. Ongoing conflict in region is estimated to have claimed more than 5 million lives.

“Our hope and goal is to help people acculturate and become productive members of society and this celebration is a part of that,” VanDeGraaf said.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

JUST IN: Officials ID toddler killed after being hit in Northeast Austin neighborhood 
JUST IN: Officials ID toddler killed after being hit in Northeast Austin neighborhood 

Officials have identified the toddler who police say was hit and killed by a van driver in Northeast Austin on Saturday afternoon. The girl, 14-month-old Alyssa Nicol Juarez-Ruiz, died soon after she was taken to Dell Children’s Medical Center, the Travis County medical examiner’s office said. She died from blunt force trauma to her...
Puppy’s chances improve after being brought in with mouth bound shut
Puppy’s chances improve after being brought in with mouth bound shut

Veterinarians say the prognosis of a puppy brought in to a Florida animal center over the weekend with its mouth bound shut has improved. Pixie, a 7-pound Yorkshire Terrier mix, has been able to eat small amounts of food, Paws 2 Help founder Eve Van Engel said Monday. “When they came in this morning, you’d think we’d won the lottery...
Vandal throws Bible, rocks, into Colorado Islamic Center
Vandal throws Bible, rocks, into Colorado Islamic Center

Police are investigating after a vandal targeted the Islamic Center of Fort Collins in Colorado over the weekend, breaking glass and throwing a Bible into the center’s prayer room. The attack drew condemnation from police, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and hundreds of Fort Collins residents, who took to the streets Sunday in support...
Watch: North Texas storms drop golf ball, softball-size hail
Watch: North Texas storms drop golf ball, softball-size hail

Severe weather blanketed portions of North Texas Sunday night, dropping hail and damaging outdoor property. Hail ranging from pea to softball-size hail fell across Denton and Collin counties. Lewisville hail @DFWscanner — LA (@ThisIsLAinTx) March 27, 2017 According to the Dallas Morning News, forecasters are...
Community news: Rabid bat found in Buda

TRAVIS COUNTY EAST AUSTIN Get your gardening soil tested The 2017 Austin’s Soil Kitchen, an opportunity for backyard food gardeners to receive free soil testing, will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 8 and from 9 a.m. to noon April 9. The event will be held at the Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center, 2608 Gonzales St. Soil brought to the kitchen...
More Stories