ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - Since 2000, it is estimated that 850,000 unauthorized immigrants have entered the U.S. each year.
There are currently more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. Right now, lawmakers are debating a bill on immigration reform.
In the meantime, thousands of people are taking steps to become naturalized citizens.
The reasons people want to live in the U.S. are as varied as the countries from which they come. For some, it simply means having a better life.
One Nigerian-born American said having money in his home country puts someone at risk of violence.
He took the oath of allegiance in a ceremony at the Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island to make his American dream a reality.
"It's just always uplifting to see people that choose our country," said Lisa Godbey Wood, chief judge for the U.S. District Court for Georgia's Southern District.
She presided over the naturalization ceremony, which was the final step in the process of becoming a naturalized, U.S. citizen. New citizens get introduced to the U.S. justice system, learn the importance of citizenship and get a grand welcome.
The ceremony was held outdoors for the first time rather than inside a courtroom ceremony. Twenty-one men and women from 13 different countries were naturalized.
"Not only do they inherit a whole host of Constitutional rights and civil responsibilities, they inherit all the national park lands that our country has to offer," Wood said.
Chibeuze "Sonny" Onunka is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He left his homeland nine years ago, leaving behind his family and giving up his rank as captain in the Nigerian army.
He first moved to New York and opened a limousine business. Then three years after leaving his home in Aba, Nigeria, he returned to video and his brother was target for kidnappers.
"I went home to visit them, the week I left, they went to him and ask for the money I gave him. they kidnapped him," Onunka said.
He said he had to pay $500,000 to free his brother, an outrageous ransom that forced him to close the business and move to the southern U.S.
Onunka gained permanent residency status. He works at Jenkins High School as a food nutritionist for the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.
Six months ago, this father started the journey toward becoming a U.S. citizen, submitting the N-400 application, completing the background check and passing the U.S. citizenship and immigration services interview.
The final task was taking the oath of allegiance.
Onunka's mother and sister live in New York. His sister is the only other member of his family who is a naturalized U.S. citizen. Because of the danger to his family in Africa, He wants to one day move to the U.S.