Dina Pimentel Rios clutched a tiny American flag on Sunday, tears streaming down her face, as she and 98 other immigrants heard a phrase they had long been waiting for: “Congratulations, you are the nation’s newest American citizens.”

Formerly from Guatemala, Pimentel Rios said she feels as though she’s living in a dream.

“I’ve waited for this dream for a long time,” said Pimentel Rios, who has lived in the United States since 1999. “I’m so happy. God bless America for giving me this opportunity.”

Pimentel Rios was one of 99 people who became United States citizens at the Carter Center on Sunday, to mark President Jimmy Carter turning 99 years old. The group of immigrants hailed from 45 countries, from Afghanistan to China to Romania. Their family and friends snapped photos, hugged, smiled, cried and cheered.

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Sylvia Naguib, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library Curator, read remarks from Jason Carter, who is the president’s grandson and now chair of the Board of Trustees for the Carter Center. Each of the newly minted citizens were given a copy of Jason’s letter.

“My family and I are pleased to thank you for being one of the 99 people honored at this ceremony on this special occasion,” the letter said. “We are proud of the strong commitment you have shown, and we know our nation will be rewarded in welcoming you as one of its newest members.”

On the grounds near the Carter Center, birthday balloons were strung up to honor the former president. Over the weekend, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum had invited visitors to eat birthday cake, sign a birthday card and participate in other activities, including painting and trivia games.

The price of admission was ninety-nine cents, in a nod to Carter’s birthday.

At the naturalization ceremony, Naguib, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library Curator, told attendees that she too was a naturalized American citizen. She told the 99 new American citizens to savor the culture of Atlanta, to register to vote, and to become engaged in the community.

“I hope you will offer your best to the United States that you have come to call your home,” she said. “You will see it in a different way than many who are born here, and I hope you will never take for granted the freedom and responsibilities that become yours today.”

After the ceremony, Gianluca Saccone stood outside the Carter Center, along with his wife and loved ones. He moved from Italy to the United States in 2013, when the two were married.

“He came here for love!” yelled one of his friends.

Saccone smiled.

“I’m feeling good,” he said. I’m very happy to be American.”

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