Three new U.S. citizens listen to speeches while holding their flags. The Caroline Scott Harrison Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution provided the flags for the 98 new U.S. citizens. (Photo/Arianna Hunt at

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By Mia Frankenfield, Arianna Hunt, Averi Phelps & Hannah Johnson
July 4, 2024

Trading one home for another, just shy of 100 immigrants from dozens of different countries across the world took the oath to become U.S. citizens the day before America’s birthday.

Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the Southern Indiana District Court began the intricate process of swearing in the 98 new citizens Wednesday morning at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis.

“We admire your courage and salute your success and enthusiastically we welcome you as you take your place and join the family circle that is America,” Barker said.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett attended along with people representing the U.S. Congress and the General Assembly to welcome the new citizens and commend them for their hard work to get where they are today, not forgetting to mention that their journeys were no doubt lengthy and difficult.

“I want to recognize all of the hardship, sacrifice and dedication that has led us to today, and I hope you all feel truly gratified in what you have accomplished,” Hogsett said.

With congratulations and welcomes from many, he addressed the newfound responsibilities that come along with being a U.S. citizen.

“You have an honorable task ahead. On your shoulders rests the mantle of American citizenship,” he said.

Latha Ramchand, the inaugural chancellor of Indiana University Indianapolis, confided to the new citizens how she was once in their place too and how she knows what it feels like.

She went through the process of filling out paperwork, taking citizenship tests, learning about U.S. history, waiting for her green card, and then finally being invited to be sworn in like so many were Wednesday.

“I remember that day very distinctly. … I went home and celebrated with a group of friends, all of whom were born in this country. They treated me to apple pie,” she said. “Apple pie has that blend of sweet and tart, … and that reflects being a U.S. citizen. The responsibilities combined with those rights make [the U.S.] the apple pie.”

Judge Barker stressed those responsibilities by outlining what the Declaration of Independence considers unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. She went on to describe how America is in a time of political unrest when there are many social issues surrounding immigration.

“You are becoming a U.S. citizen at a time we are unworthy of you,” she said.

But people’s faces were full of hope and excitement as they held their newly acquired American flags, listening to what Barker described as an America that would be better for their coming.

“I cannot think of anyone better qualified to come up with solutions and answers to our problems,” she said.

The ceremony symbolized more than a legal transition to citizenship—it also represented an embrace of American ideals and the responsibilities they entail. Under the tent sat people of different countries, ethnicities and backgrounds, all celebrating the same thing: the opportunity of democracy, an opportunity already underway.

—Mia Frankenfield

BHPS naturalization ceremony father with son 2024
Kantal Bhattacharyya celebrates with his loved ones after the naturalization ceremony, pausing to smile for a photograph. (Photo/Hannah Johnson at

‘I am very proud’

Kantal Bhattacharyya has been in America for 40 years.  He and his wife, Shika, stood huddled in line with their two sons Wednesday at the Benjamin Harrison house, waiting to sign in for their naturalization ceremony.

Kantal was ready to continue his American journey.

“It’s something that we’ve been looking forward to for a few years now. Our children were born and brought up here,” he said. “I am very proud to pursue everything this country has given us.”

But they were also remembering where they came from.

“[It’s] bittersweet because we have to give up Indian nationality,” Shika said.

Shika left India to pursue education in the medical field and eventually met her husband and started a family, something that was not possible in India.

“I knew that I wanted to see the world. I wanted to learn more. I came here when I was 24, and I’ve lived as much of my life here as I did in India,” she said. “I’ve done more here than I did in my country because I was just, you know, I was only a student. I’ve never voted in my country. I was always away for school. I’ve never, you know, owned property. I didn’t have kids. I didn’t get married. You know, I’ve done all those here, not in India”

Shika being here for half of her life has created a sense of identity and community for her.

“I don’t really feel that different. I do feel like a global citizen, and I’ve been working in my town to make the environment better. Not as an outsider, but wherever I live, I feel like I belong there” she said.

Living in America was challenging at first, but the country’s acceptance eased her worries.

“Our first years were hard. Not having a car, not, you know, knowing the culture as much. But it’s such an open and welcoming culture that it makes it easy as opposed to maybe if I were to go to another country where, you know, English wasn’t spoken or there weren’t as many, you know, nationals, it would probably be harder” said Shika.

While citizenship is something she is glad to have, she believes there is a duty not just to your country but to the earth as a whole.

“We are all connected. We all share this earth, water, air—you know, no matter the country’s political boundaries. But I always feel the same wherever I am,” said Shika. “I’m responsible to each other, responsible to future generations.

“We all have this responsibility.”

—Averi Phelps

Baljit Bhat at the BHPS naturalization ceremony in 2024
Baljit Bhat waits to become a U.S. Citizen at the July 3 naturalization ceremony at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. (Photo/Arianna Hunt at

‘America gave me wings’

Charles Hyde is president and CEO of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis, and this is his 10th year observing the 22-year tradition of creating new citizens on the eve of July Fourth.

“It is such a powerful experience,” he said. “And for me, watching the new citizens taking the Oath of Citizenship feels like a renewal of vows for those that are already citizens and observing that process taking place—because it really causes you to be reminded of your rights and responsibilities as a citizen.”

Neelay and Baljit Bhatt immigrated from India over 20 years ago. They didn’t know each other then, but on Wednesday, the married couple celebrated their naturalization along with their two kids, Kiaan and Anike.

“[Life in India] was wonderful. Very loving family. Again, lots of great people, great memories,” said Neelay.

“India gave me roots. America gave me wings.”

Neelay and Baljit were first introduced by Neelay’s host family, Dale and Heidi Neuburger.

“When I moved to Indianapolis, I lived with them for years. This was literally my first home in the city before I even had my own apartment,” said Neelay. “[Dale] was responsible for me getting my first job here. [Heidi] helped me find my wife, so we live in everything they did.”

After years of knowing the couple, the Neuburgers were excited  to see the Bhatt’s naturalized.

“[I feel] so proud and so privileged to know this family,” said Heidi.

Neelay and Baljit lived in the U.S. for a combined 46 years before they gained citizenship; they say their biggest hurdle was the sheer amount of time it took.

“I have three master’s. She has a master’s and a doctorate degree. And it still took us 46 years together to do it,” said Neelay. “Many people would give up. …  You know, you lose out on relevant talent, you lose out on people that you’d want to keep here. Yeah. So I think just the sheer length of the process and how long it takes, despite going to school here, despite working here and all the rest. That’s probably what’s the biggest hurdle.”

Traveling was also a challenge before citizenship because their children, Kiaan and Anika, were born here.

“We have kids who are American citizens. So traveling was always different— different lines, different application processes as well,” said Neelay.

When the time came for the Bhatts to raise their right hands to take the Oath of Allegiance, years of work ended at last.

“For me it was like your whole life flashes before our eyes, right? All the memories, everything to get to this point. People who helped you and the fact that I get to do it with her,” said Neelay, gesturing toward his wife.

“[It was] surreal,”  said Baljit. “The work of many, many years together.”

 —Arianna Hunt

Mia Frankenfield, Arianna Hunt, Averi Phelps and Hannah Johnson are reporters for, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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