A dream fullfilled after a daring escape from Cuba

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- Every few months or so, there's a big ceremony for new American citizens at the US District Court building in Phoenix.

On Friday, 100 people from 44 countries pledged their allegiance to the United States of America.

One family's story stood out among the group of new citizens. It's a story of faith and sacrifice and it starts on the high seas.

Eighteen years ago, with a storm bearing down on his homeland of Cuba, a new father made a decision after hearing the cries of his infant son.

"One night he was crying. You know, Cuba have a really hard situation about political problems. We be having oppression for so long. I remember we don't even have milk for him. He was crying and he was hungry and we was really desperate," said Raudelis Rivera.

So Rivera built a raft out of tires and wood and jumped in the ocean with his family.

"We don't know where we're going, but we just want to get out from Cuba," explained Rivera.

Raudelis, his wife, his son and Raudelis' brothers floated around the churning waters for five days.

"We was very close to die. Very close to die. I remember I said to one of my brothers, you know, 'I want to pray for first time in my life' because in communist country we not supposed to believe in God," explained Rivera.

Whether it was the prayers, fate, or something else, the US Coast Guard found the soaking wet family and brought them to the United States where they were granted asylum.

Fast forward 18 years.

"Hello, my name is Junior Rivera and I cannot express how happy I am to be here today."

Raudelis Rivera's son Junior became a US citizen on Friday. He will graduate from Mountain View High School this year.

"It's really hard for me to imagine that my parents would give up so much of their lives just for me to come to America," said Junior Rivera.

He is humbled by his parents sacrifice. They risked so much for him to grow up in the United States.

"We came here with no family, no friends, no possessions, nothing and we started from scratch," Junior explains.

Junior is planning to go to college and hopes to work in public relations.

When his father reflects on that decision he made 18 years ago, he remembered those long days in the middle of the ocean.

"I say, 'Look what I did to my son. I'm killing him at 6 months old.' I was feeling so guilty."

Now he's feeling proud.

One story of sacrifice among many who became US citizens on this day -- people from all over the world who discovered there's an American dream for them, too.

Sometimes, it just takes a leap of faith.

Just ask Junior -- a grateful young man with a bright future. "That is my biggest blessing, my parents sacrificing so much for me."