Citizenship Applications Spiked in July

Thursday, March 13, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) - Some immigrants who sought U.S. citizenship amid an application backlog last summer may very well become Americans ahead of this year's presidential election, the Bush administration's top immigration official said Tuesday.

Emilio Gonzalez, director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, told a House panel that those who applied in June should be citizens by the end of September. The wait for those who applied after June could be up to 16 months.

Previously, Gonzalez's office had said those who applied for citizenship after June 1 would have to wait 16 to 18 months.

Gonzalez said his agency has taken steps to move along the backlog created, in part, when nearly a half-million people applied for U.S. citizenship in July 2007, the month immigration application fees drastically increased.

A total of 460,294 citizenship applications were filed last July alone, according to CIS numbers obtained by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

Nearly 1 million applications for other benefits such as international adoptions, work permits and green card renewals also were filed in July 2007. About 230,000 applications were filed that month for legal residency.

In all, the agency received 7.7 million applications in the 2007 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

William Ramos, Washington director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said his organization wants states with large Latino populations to delay voter registration deadlines for its newest citizens.

California, New York and Illinois allow new citizens to register to vote later than the general deadline, NALEO found.

Registration deadlines in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and Texas range from 21 to 30 days before the election. About half of the estimated 9 million legal residents in the United States are Latinos.

According to the immigration agency's figures, applications had been steadily increasing in the months of January through June 2007, ranging from 40 percent to 114 percent higher than the same month the previous year.

Christopher Bentley, spokesman for the agency, said officials prepared for a rise in applications based on historic fee increases but "didn't anticipate the increase would be to the magnitude that it was."

The July applications were more than triple the number filed the previous month and about a 650 percent increase from July 2006, when 61,665 applications were filed.

"I wouldn't say they should have been able to foresee this order of magnitude. ... When you are in a business that is unpredictable, then you do as well as you can predicting," said Doris Meissner, Migration Policy Institute senior fellow and immigration commissioner during the Clinton administration.

Congress has approved Homeland Security plans to spend $468 million in fee money over three years on the backlog of applications. That money will help hire 1,000 workers, pay overtime and train the workers to handle the applications.