They were foreigners at 10 a.m. Wednesday, waiting to raise their right hands and take the oath of allegiance to the United States.
They stood in a line that wove around the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land. Thirty-nine men and women from 23 countries, speaking the same words needed to become American citizens.
Afterward, David Aurelio Diaz stood in a concession line with his two sons. He came to the United States from Mexico 10 years ago with a dream of a better life for him and his family. Now that he's an American citizen, he can begin the naturalization process for his sons — Jezreel, 15, and Jaaziel, 10.
"They follow me," he said.
Never miss a local story.
Just an hour before, Diaz was inside a bureaucratic maze that wound around citizens of Italy, the Sudan, Vietnam, China and many others. James Hicks, supervisory adjudications officer with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services of Homeland Security, gave instructions to those about to take the oath.
"Make sure you register to vote," Hicks said. "They say if you don't register to vote, you've got no right to complain. Makes sense."
And then it began — the 39 soon-to-be citizens stood one at a time to tell Land their names and countries of origin. The judge told them that it was this day in 1787 when the Founding Fathers adopted the U.S. Constitution. He wants to hold naturalization ceremonies every year on Constitution Day.
"Today, America is more than your home," Land said. "It is now your country . . . the diversity that you add to our country strengthens us."
Members of the Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution followed behind Land and Hicks as they shook the new citizens' hands, giving them copies of the constitution and small American flags. Diaz held them and his certificate of naturalization that grants him his citizenship.
A reverend with a United Methodist Church in Macon, Diaz said his message to his congregation this Sunday will be one of caring for the country and families. His theme, he said, will be about learning to serve.