New York (CNN)Fleeing El Salvador's civil war, Javier Torres, 19 at the time, came to the United States across the Mexican border on January 10, 1986. On Tuesday, 30 years later, Torres will vote for the first time in an American presidential election.
The new Americans voting for the first time
The eldest of three, Torres says he came to the United States to help provide a better life for his family, who wanted to stay at home in El Salvador. "The idea, the hope of someday becoming an American citizen was a faraway dream," he said, and now says having the ability to take part in Tuesday's election is one of the "greatest things" that has ever happened to him.
Torres was one of a number of newly naturalized American citizens CNN spoke to who will be voting for the first time this week. For some of them, including Torres, it will be their first time voting anywhere, many having left their home countries before they were eligible to vote there.
Almost 7 million people have become naturalized citizens over the past decade, 729,995 in the last fiscal year, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Some of those naturalized, like Torres, came to the United States undocumented and lived in the country illegally until becoming residents. Others, like Gayle Gatchalian, have come on student visas or other forms of temporary visas, have fallen in love and become residents through marriage.
Gatchalian moved here from the Philippines for college in 2005 and now works for a nonprofit organization in Manhattan. She registered to vote as soon as she became eligible. "If I'm going to live here for the rest of my life, I should have my say," she says.
Those eligible for citizenship take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony often held at a courthouse or other public building.
CNN National Politics Reporter MJ Lee was among the 296 immigrants from 53 countries who became citizens at a ceremony on Ellis Island in September. Lee was born in South Korea and grew up in Hong Kong before moving to the United States for boarding school in 11th grade.
"Last Friday was one of the most joyous days of my life," Lee wrote for CNN.com a few days after becoming a citizen.