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Lights host naturalization ceremony for 700 — PHOTOS

Mehernaz Forooghi did not realize what moving to the United States would mean to her.

Since permanently moving to the U.S. in 2013, she and her husband were able to start their own realty business in Las Vegas.

On Saturday night, she took another life-changing step. Forooghi was one of about 700 people from more than 80 countries who became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony at halftime of the Las Vegas Lights FC’s 2-1 win over Sacramento Republic FC at Cashman Field.

“A lot about tonight made me realize that every single one of us come from so many different backgrounds, so many different stories,” she said. “All of us are bringing our stories and starting a new life here with our new story and new chapters.”

Mehernaz Forooghi, who is from India, was living in Canada when she and then-future husband, Farhood Forooghi, started a long-distance relationship. She would travel between Canada and the United States until she decided to stay with him in Las Vegas.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would move to the U.S. It was just such a far-off dream, I guess,” she said. “It never crossed my mind.”

She said the process of applying for citizenship went smoothly. She took practice tests she found online on an app every night to prepare.

“When I went for the testing, I was like blown away how quickly the answers were coming to me just because of that app,” she said.

Meaningful moments

As the first half of Saturday’s soccer match ended, lines of people holding envelopes and American flags made their way onto the field, gathering on the far side behind the teams’ benches.

Yousif San stood across the field from the applicants as the fourth game official raised up a board saying there would be five minutes of stoppage time at the end of the half.

He was at the game to watch his mother become a citizen after an almost six-year wait since moving to the U.S. from Iraq.

“Thank God we are out here. It’s very dangerous,” San said of Iraq. “I have a lot of family members that die on like a daily basis.”

San was expecting just a couple dozen people to go through the ceremony and was surprised to see so many participants.

“It feels good that they can actually kind of rest,” San said. “They don’t have to worry about us like being in danger all the time.”

Immediately at the halftime whistle, several large groups of applicants walked to the center of the field.

U.S. Federal Judge Andrew Gordon conducted the ceremony leading applicants through the oath of citizenship as all raised their right hands.

In one voice, they all said “I do.” Fireworks, confetti and “God Bless the U.S.A.” blared over the loudspeakers.

After the ceremony, Mehernaz Forooghi sat in the bleachers after picking up her certificate of citizenship with her sister, husband and friends.

“When we all said ‘I do’ it was like a powerful force coming together,” Mehernaz Forooghi said. “It was a humbling moment.”

‘Dream come true’

During the second half, Charles Castanos held his certificate of citizenship and an American flag. He moved from the Philippines to the U.S. in 2014.

He called Saturday a “dream come true.”

“I’m so happy that finally I got my citizenship as an American,” Castanos said.

Cielo Tarrillo stood in a circle with her family holding a bouquet of flowers. Her family is from Peru and Tarrillo has lived in Las Vegas since she was 8 years old.

“It was really fun. I got a little bit emotional at the end so I started tearing up,” Tarrillo said.

She said everyone on the field with her was friendly and after the oath, people who had never met were congratulating each other.

“I’m excited to get my passport to travel,” Tarrillo said.

Celebrating diverse fan base

Lights CEO Brett Lashbrook said the team is always looking for unique promotions. He said someone close to the club brought up hosting a naturalization ceremony and he immediately reached out to the federal court.

“They want to find more unique venues to highlight the positive side of immigration and how this process works,” Lashbrook said.

Conversations started with having a ceremony with 10 to 20 people but Lashbrook pushed for a bigger ceremony.

“We are proudly the most diverse fan base in the city and embrace that fully,” Lashbrook said. “Not to say this wouldn’t work for all types of events, but I think it becomes more meaningful with the diverse fan base that you see at a Lights FC game.”

Contact David Wilson at dwilson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @davidwilson_RJ on Twitter.

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