CHARLESTON, W.Va. - David Gonzalez said he has always considered himself a West Virginian, and his prominent Appalachian accent supports that claim.
But the 40-year-old coal miner did not become a U.S. citizen until Monday morning, when he and 66 other people from 30 countries officially declared the United States their new home country.
U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Goodwin presided over the ceremony, held in the Robert C. Byrd Federal Courthouse on Quarrier Street.
Gonzalez, of Beckley, came to the United States from Mexico when he was 6 years old. He has spent the last 20 years paying lawyers to work through the difficult legal maze of the U.S. immigration system.
All the while, Gonzalez spent thousands of dollars getting his visa renewed every few years to avoid being deported to a country he barely remembers.
He smiled widely following Monday's naturalization ceremony. He compared the experience to getting married.
"You're all nervous but when you get it done, it's great," he said. "It took me forever, but I finally got it done."
Congress soon may make the path to citizenship easier for people like Gonzalez.
A bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators last week released a new plan for immigration reform that included creating a path to citizenship for the country's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, along with provisions that would tighten border security.
On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told ABC News' "This Week" he is confident the Senate will pass immigration legislation.
President Barack Obama traveled to Nevada last week to tout his three-pronged approach to immigration reform: providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, reforming the current legal immigration process and stricter enforcement of immigration laws.
Republicans in the House of Representatives could thwart Reid and Obama's plans, as granting illegal immigrants citizenship is deeply unpopular in many of their home districts.
But Republicans also are facing increased pressure to win over the country's Hispanic voters, because Democrats currently dominate that sizeable demographic. Moving forward with immigration reform may be one way for Republicans to gain more favor among Hispanic voters.
Gonzalez said streamlining immigrants' path to citizenship would only help the United States.
"It would be more money for the economy. Use your head," he said.
Meena Anada, who co-owns the popular Little India restaurant on Charleston's East End with her husband, Harish, came to the United States from India in 1974.
"I was eligible in 1979, but I never got around to doing it," Anada said. "I put it off and put it off. But then everyone else was already naturalized so I decided to do it, too.