Citizenship Applications Climb Despite Fee Hike

Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, November 4, 2007

The number of citizenship applications received in the Los Angeles area tripled in September compared with the same period last year, despite a major application fee increase that immigration experts feared could drastically set back demand.

Nationwide, citizenship applications also increased in August and September compared with last year, according to new figures from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The applications are on track to surpass the 1-million mark, a milestone reached only twice in the last century—both times in the mid-1990s. That’s when many illegal immigrants who received amnesty in the 1980s became eligible for citizenship, and a political backlash against them motivated many to apply.

This year, similar dynamics are in place, immigration experts said.

“The anti-immigrant sentiment is bordering on the xenophobic, and people are taking notice of that,” said Evan Bacalao of the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund in Los Angeles. “So even though the fees have increased, people still want to make sure their voices are heard.”

To help boost the number of new citizens even more, an alliance of hundreds of organizations last week launched a “100 Days” national campaign to urge immigrants to apply for citizenship in time for the 2008 election.

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Major Spanish-language media, including Univision Communications Inc. and ImpreMedia, which publishes La Opinion, will air and publish public service announcements urging legal permanent residents to apply for citizenship. It usually takes from nine months to a year to become a citizen, including submitting the initial application, passing English and civics tests and taking the oath of allegiance, Bacalao said.

In addition, the national Latino group this week launched a revolving loan fund initiative to provide zero-interest loans to help immigrants pay the citizenship application fee, which was increased from $400 to $675 on July 30. The $100,000 fund, provided in a grant from Advance America, a cash advance provider, will offer loans up to $400.

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Immigrant advocates had sharply protested the fee increase, saying it would bar many eligible but indigent immigrants from seeking citizenship. But immigration officials said the hike was needed because they receive no regular congressional appropriations for their work and must depend on user fees.

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Citizenship applications in the Los Angeles area hit 24,377 in September, compared with 8,216 during the same month last year. The total number of applications received between January and September this year reached 213,139, compared with 102,150 for all of last year.

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But the numbers this year were still higher than in similar months last year—80,365 in September, for instance, compared with 59,869 in the same month last year. The number of applications between January and September was 940,087, compared with 781,684 for all of last year.

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