COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - No doubt, Congaree National Park is a beautiful, one-of-a-kind outdoor treasure.
But, ironically, it's what happened inside the park's visitor's center Monday morning that was just as beautiful.
Eighteen people from around the world cast their old allegiances and became U.S. citizens.
"I'm from Italy. Rimini, Italy," said Elisa James. "My husband was in the Army and was stationed in Italy, and that's where we met."
Love brought Elisa James to America. James, her husband, and their two small kids now live in Fort Mill. But she admits, her U.S. citizenship almost didn't happen.
"A couple months ago, before applying for my citizenship, I really thought about going back to my country," James said.
The reason, she said, is the current political climate.
"It really hurt me, because some people I considered friends told me to 'go back to my country.' And, at first, I cried for weeks, and I told my husband, 'I want to go back home.' And then I said, 'You know what? This is my country,'" James said.
Of the 18 new U.S. citizens, they all have different stories. They all have different reasons for becoming Americans.
But they share one thing – on Tuesday, July 4th they'll celebrate an Independence Day of true significance.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services held Monday morning's ceremony at Congaree National Park. It plans to welcome more than 15,000 new citizens in more than 65 ceremonies across the country this year.