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  • Citizenship process article

    Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2002


    Citizenship applications soar since 9-11


    Staff and Wire Services


    Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the number of immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship has soared despite tougher background checks and a slower screening process, officials said Tuesday.
    Immigrant officials and advocates for immigrants said the increase is largely spurred by a desire to show patriotism and, to a lesser extent, the fear of being caught in the federal dragnet for terrorists.

    In Los Angeles, Immigration and Naturalization Service officials estimate about 125,000 applications will be filed this year, about one-fifth of the national total. At the recent July 4 naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles, officials swore in 7,370 new citizens compared with 3,918 last year. The largest number came from Mexico, Vietnam, Iran, China and the Philippines.

    "There is definitely a sense of patriotism," local INS spokesman Francisco Arcaute said. "The people who have been on the fence about becoming a citizen are getting swept up in the patriotic mood and are becoming citizens."

    New figures released in Washington, D.C., by INS officials show there were 519,523 new applications for citizenship between Oct. 1, 2001, and May 31, 2002 -- nearly 65 percent more than the 314,971 applications received over the same period beginning in 2000.

    During May alone, the INS got 48,378 applications nationally -- 121 percent more than the 21,870 a year earlier.

    But even with the increase, the number of people granted citizenship between October 2001 and May 2002 dropped by 10 percent from the comparable period a year earlier.

    Officials said they are placing a greater effort on weeding out potential terrorists so background checks are more thorough now and take longer to complete.

    The boost in applications means naturalization ceremonies are now held in larger venues and that citizenship classes are packed with people eager to learn the Pledge of Allegiance and the basics of American history.

    Arcaute said watching men and women grasp their citizenship certificates is an emotional experience.

    "It is moving. There are hundreds of people crying tears of emotion because they have worked so hard to be a citizen," Arcaute said. "These people become the best Americans because they've had to sacrifice their homeland and they didn't just inherit U.S. citizenship."

    The standard naturalization process takes between six months and one year, but could last longer if extensive checking is needed. The background-check process includes fingerprinting and cross-referencing an applicant's information on both national and international criminal databases.

    "We need to make sure the applicant has good intentions and has no criminal background," he said. "It's better for people to tell us anything bad they have in their past than to have us find it. We have just been more diligent checking out backgrounds. We double- and triple-check questionable applications."

    Dennis Walsborn and his wife, Nellie, who run a free immigration-assistance program in Santa Fe Springs called The 605 Citizenship Program, teach applicants how to file immigration papers, help them take pictures and teach them U.S. history.

    Walsborn said post-Sept. 11 patriotism has "without a doubt" boosted interest in U.S. citizenship.

    "People come here for two reasons: Their rights are repressed in their home countries, or they seek a better economic situation," Walsborn said. "Ever since 9-11, the desire to become a citizen has grown tremendously. They see how great this country is and want to be a part of it."

    Concern about hassles over lack of citizenship also has led to the increase.

    "People are eager to apply for naturalization because of the problems they run into, or they have a friend who had a problem with INS," said Ismat Bayumi, 37, of Dallas, who works with people seeking citizenship through Catholic Charities.

    Bayumi, an asylum seeker from Sudan, became a citizen May 23. He applied in November, as soon as he had completed the required five years of living legally inside the United States.

    Lisa Gonzales, who admits coming to Houston illegally 12 years ago, applied for citizenship Sept. 13.

    "On Sept. 11, I felt as American as anyone ever has," Gonzales said. "This is my war, too."

    Immigration researcher Irma Gonzales at the University of Chicago said the influx of applications was prompted by controversy over the detention of immigrants in connection with the terrorist investigation.

    "It is not a good time to be an immigrant in the United States," Gonzales said. "Immigrants are being detained and deported with a great deal of secrecy and people are looking for the certainty that comes with having citizenship."

    Backlogs for naturalization applications once stretched as long as two years. The INS began making headway during the Clinton administration and President George W. Bush has pushed to reduce the wait to six months.

    In New York, INS officials reported that after Sept. 11, citizenship applications increased from about 6,000 per month to 11,000. Chicago and Houston reported similar surges.

    Luis Gutierrez, executive director of Latinos Progresando in Chicago, said patriotism has motivated many of those seeking citizenship since Sept. 11.

    "After Sept. 11, people wanted to show their pride in this country. I think some people also are scared they may be losing some of their rights," he said.

    He said naturalization applications are being approved in about eight months in Chicago.

    In the 1990s, almost 4.5 million people were naturalized as U.S. citizens, said Barbara Strack, director of the Center for the New American Community. The center was started by the National Immigration Forum to help immigrants make the transition to American society.

  • #2
    Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2002


    Citizenship applications soar since 9-11


    Staff and Wire Services


    Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the number of immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship has soared despite tougher background checks and a slower screening process, officials said Tuesday.
    Immigrant officials and advocates for immigrants said the increase is largely spurred by a desire to show patriotism and, to a lesser extent, the fear of being caught in the federal dragnet for terrorists.

    In Los Angeles, Immigration and Naturalization Service officials estimate about 125,000 applications will be filed this year, about one-fifth of the national total. At the recent July 4 naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles, officials swore in 7,370 new citizens compared with 3,918 last year. The largest number came from Mexico, Vietnam, Iran, China and the Philippines.

    "There is definitely a sense of patriotism," local INS spokesman Francisco Arcaute said. "The people who have been on the fence about becoming a citizen are getting swept up in the patriotic mood and are becoming citizens."

    New figures released in Washington, D.C., by INS officials show there were 519,523 new applications for citizenship between Oct. 1, 2001, and May 31, 2002 -- nearly 65 percent more than the 314,971 applications received over the same period beginning in 2000.

    During May alone, the INS got 48,378 applications nationally -- 121 percent more than the 21,870 a year earlier.

    But even with the increase, the number of people granted citizenship between October 2001 and May 2002 dropped by 10 percent from the comparable period a year earlier.

    Officials said they are placing a greater effort on weeding out potential terrorists so background checks are more thorough now and take longer to complete.

    The boost in applications means naturalization ceremonies are now held in larger venues and that citizenship classes are packed with people eager to learn the Pledge of Allegiance and the basics of American history.

    Arcaute said watching men and women grasp their citizenship certificates is an emotional experience.

    "It is moving. There are hundreds of people crying tears of emotion because they have worked so hard to be a citizen," Arcaute said. "These people become the best Americans because they've had to sacrifice their homeland and they didn't just inherit U.S. citizenship."

    The standard naturalization process takes between six months and one year, but could last longer if extensive checking is needed. The background-check process includes fingerprinting and cross-referencing an applicant's information on both national and international criminal databases.

    "We need to make sure the applicant has good intentions and has no criminal background," he said. "It's better for people to tell us anything bad they have in their past than to have us find it. We have just been more diligent checking out backgrounds. We double- and triple-check questionable applications."

    Dennis Walsborn and his wife, Nellie, who run a free immigration-assistance program in Santa Fe Springs called The 605 Citizenship Program, teach applicants how to file immigration papers, help them take pictures and teach them U.S. history.

    Walsborn said post-Sept. 11 patriotism has "without a doubt" boosted interest in U.S. citizenship.

    "People come here for two reasons: Their rights are repressed in their home countries, or they seek a better economic situation," Walsborn said. "Ever since 9-11, the desire to become a citizen has grown tremendously. They see how great this country is and want to be a part of it."

    Concern about hassles over lack of citizenship also has led to the increase.

    "People are eager to apply for naturalization because of the problems they run into, or they have a friend who had a problem with INS," said Ismat Bayumi, 37, of Dallas, who works with people seeking citizenship through Catholic Charities.

    Bayumi, an asylum seeker from Sudan, became a citizen May 23. He applied in November, as soon as he had completed the required five years of living legally inside the United States.

    Lisa Gonzales, who admits coming to Houston illegally 12 years ago, applied for citizenship Sept. 13.

    "On Sept. 11, I felt as American as anyone ever has," Gonzales said. "This is my war, too."

    Immigration researcher Irma Gonzales at the University of Chicago said the influx of applications was prompted by controversy over the detention of immigrants in connection with the terrorist investigation.

    "It is not a good time to be an immigrant in the United States," Gonzales said. "Immigrants are being detained and deported with a great deal of secrecy and people are looking for the certainty that comes with having citizenship."

    Backlogs for naturalization applications once stretched as long as two years. The INS began making headway during the Clinton administration and President George W. Bush has pushed to reduce the wait to six months.

    In New York, INS officials reported that after Sept. 11, citizenship applications increased from about 6,000 per month to 11,000. Chicago and Houston reported similar surges.

    Luis Gutierrez, executive director of Latinos Progresando in Chicago, said patriotism has motivated many of those seeking citizenship since Sept. 11.

    "After Sept. 11, people wanted to show their pride in this country. I think some people also are scared they may be losing some of their rights," he said.

    He said naturalization applications are being approved in about eight months in Chicago.

    In the 1990s, almost 4.5 million people were naturalized as U.S. citizens, said Barbara Strack, director of the Center for the New American Community. The center was started by the National Immigration Forum to help immigrants make the transition to American society.

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