Felix Taborda Romero proudly raised his right hand and recited a solemn oath Monday afternoon, pledging his allegiance to the United States.
“…I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God,” he said.
Family erupted in applause — Taborda Romero, an 88-year-old man in hospice care battling end-stage metastatic colon cancer, was officially a U.S. citizen.
“I am really emotional and excited, more than excited,” said Romero, of an unincorporated area of Martin County, Florida. “I love freedom and liberty…and all the good things that you have in this country.”
Taborda Romero and his wife, Laura Apitz de Taborda, emigrated from Venezuela in 2013 as the country faced unprecedented socioeconomic issues that political experts have argued were more severe than the Great Depression.
The husband-and-wife duo were both well-educated and financially stable prior to the crisis in Venezuela. Apitz de Taborda had a master’s degree in library sciences, and Taborda Romero had a Ph.D. and was working as a plant geneticist and professor at the University of Zulia.
The economic downturn hit Taborda Romero and Apitz de Taborda hard, earning only $6 a month come 2013.
The couple had two sons already living in South Florida, Apitz de Taborda said, and made the decision to leave Venezuela. They moved to their residence in Martin County about three years ago.
Apitz de Taborda earned her citizenship last summer, but Taborda Romero faced a few roadblocks further delayed by his December cancer diagnosis.
He decided to forego any chemotherapy or radiation treatment — opting to spend what time remained at home surrounded by his wife, three children and six grandchildren. He is now being cared for by Treasure Coast Hospice in Stuart.
Patients receiving hospice care typically have six months or fewer left to live.
When Kelley Thompson, a licensed clinical social worker, learned it was Taborda Romero’s dying wish to earn his citizenship, she rallied staff together to see it through.
Thompson spent about two months working out the logistics to conduct a rare, at-home citizenship test for Taborda Romero — needing permission on federal, state and local levels and acquiring paperwork from doctors, law enforcement officials and more.
To see it all come through brought tears to Thompson’s eyes.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “Working in hospice care for 15 years, I personally try to do as much as I can for each of the families…but this was very special. I’m proud of him.”