NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — As some elected officials demand that Syrian refugees be barred entry into the United States, a special Thanksgiving luncheon was held Thursday at Ellis Island, celebrating newly naturalized citizens.

As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, the turkey tasted sweeter to Ching Chao, of Taiwan, who became a U.S. citizen just last month.

“Because I’ve been here so many years, but never have a real Thanksgiving dinner. So I’m actually really excited about it,” she said. “I try to cook turkey but it’s so hard to make it perfect.”

Otto Coca, with the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, said the event was a way to welcome the newly naturalized citizens to the U.S.

“This is more than just a celebration. This is an embrace,” he said.

Ivana Estrada, of Bolivia, called becoming a U.S. citizen the greatest joy in her life.

“I came here to pursue happiness and opportunity. America really is the land of the free and the home of the brave,” she said. “I have found America to be more meritocratic, and with more opportunities if you are determined and a hard worker.”

The meal hosted by NECO was served in the Great Hall, a site of passage for more than 12 million immigrants.

“I came to America to study, and attend a university in 1986. America means everything to me,” said Chrysostomos Costa Mallouras, of Cyprus.

Among those who were invited to attend included naturalized citizens from Serbia, Algeria, Cyprus, Colombia, Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda, Taiwan, Mali and Bolivia.

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