New sense of urgency to become naturalized into the U.S. increases wait time to 10 months


Jose: PERMANENT RESIDENTS ARE ELIGIBLE TO BECOME U.S. CITIZENS AFTER FIVE YEARS BUT MANY OF THEM PUT OFF THAT PROCESS AND NOW THERE IS A NEW SENSE OF URGENCY TO BECOME NATURALIZED. PRODUCER ADRIANA DE ALBA WENT TO A CEREMONY IN PHOENIX WHERE DOZENS OF PEOPLE BECAME U.S. CITIZENS.

Reporter: THE CELEBRATION ECHOED FROM FLOOR TO CEILING AT THE SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR U.S. COURT HOUSE. DURING A RECENT NATURALIZATION CEREMONY IN PHOENIX 79 CANDIDATES DROM 19 COUNTRIES TOOK THE OATH OF ALLEGIANCE OFFICIALLY BECOMING CITIZENS OF THIS COUNTRY. SOLANGE HABINEZA CAME FROM RWANDA.

Solange Habineza: IT IS A JOY. THE BENEFITS OF BEING AMERICAN IS BIG THINGS FOR ME.

Reporter: GRACIELA AYALA TOOK THIS AS A MOMENT TO HONOR HER FATHER.

MY FATHER HE WAS AN IMMIGRANT. HE MADE THE HARD JOB FOR ME. IT WAS SO HARD FOR HIM TO BECOME A RESIDENT. NOW I MAKE JUST A LITTLE STEP TO BECOME A CITIZEN.

Reporter: AND THEN THERE WAS MY MOTHER. ESTHER DE ALBA THAT IS HER IN THE BLUE. SHE IMMIGRATED TO THE U.S. FROM MEXICO 37 YEARS AGO AND FINALLY MADE THE DECISION TO BECOME NATURALIZED.

ESTHER DE ALBA: I FEEL VERY HAPPY BECAUSE I AM PART OF THIS COUNTRY.

Reporter: SHE IS AMONG A WAVE OF PEOPLE APPLYING FOR CITIZENSHIP. U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES OR USCIS REPORTS A SIGNIFICANT INCREASE IN APPLICATIONS FOR NATURALIZATION THIS PAST YEAR.

Maria Elena Upson: WHY? THERE REALLY ISN'T REALLY AN EXACT REASON DEPENDING ON PEOPLE'S CULTURE. A LOT OF PEOPLE WILL FILE AS SOON AS THEY ARE ELIGIBLE. DO WE TEND TO SEE AN INCREASE WHEN THERE IS A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION? OF COURSE WE DO.

Reporter: NATIONWIDE, USCIS SAW A JUMP IN CITIZENSHIP APPLICATIONS DURING THE 2017 FISCAL YEAR FIRST HALF WITH AN INCREASE OF ALMOST 50,000. THE HIGH VOLUME OF APPLICATIONS CAUSED A SLOWDOWN IN PROCESSING TIME.

Maria Elena Upson: WE WERE AT ROUGHLY SIX MONTHS, POSSIBLY FIVE AT ONE TIME. WE ARE NOW ROUGHLY AT 10 MONTHS.

SALVADOR MACIAS: WE ARE KIND OF SEEING THIS BURST IN THE LATINO COMMUNITY. I CAN'T SPEAK TO THE OTHER COMMUNITIES BUT SEEING THIS BURST OF PEOPLE TRYING TO BECOME CITIZENS BECAUSE THEY ARE AFRAID. THEY ARE AFRAID OF WHAT CAN HAPPENING. NOW THEY WANT TO HAVE A SAY.

Reporter: IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY SALVADOR MACIAS HAS EXPERIENCED THE WAVE FIRSTHAND AND HE THINKS POLITICS MAY HAVE A LOT TO DO IT WITH IT.

Salvador Macias: I DO THINK TRUMP'S PRESIDENCY HAS A LOT TO DO WITH THE RISE IN CITIZENSHIP APPLICATIONS. THAT IS, I GUESS YOU COULD SAY A POSITIVE OF THE PRESIDENCY BUT IT IS BECAUSE OF FEAR.

Reporter: BUT SOME SIMPLY FEAR THE PROCESS OF APPLYING ITSELF. CITIZENS LIKE SUSANA OLIVIO WERE AFRAID THEY WOULDN’T PASS THE CIVICS IN ENGLISH PROFICOENCY TEST.

Susana Olivo: I WANTED TO DO IT BUT FEAR WON'T ALLOW IT. I SAY LATER AND LATER. AND THEN I SAID IT IS TIME.

Reporter: MY MOM HAD SIMILAR CONCERNS BUT SAID THE LONG HOURS SPENT STUDYING FOR THE TEST WERE WELL WORTH IT.

ESTHER DE ALBA: IT WAS MY DREAM TO BE A U.S. CITIZEN.

Reporter: NOW SHE LOOKS FORWARD TO ALL THE RIGHT AND PRIVILEGES INCLUDING GETTING TO VOTE DURING THE NEXT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.

Jose: USCIS TELLS US THEY ARE GOING TO BEGIN CONDUCTING SECONDARY INTERVIEWS ON APPLICANTS. IN THE PAST THE PROCESS HAS ONLY REQUIRED ONE. THEY WILL BE HIRING MORE STAFF TO REVIEW THE HIGH VOLUME OF APPLICATIONS AND EXTRA SECURITY CHECKS.

A recent naturalization ceremony in Phoenix saw 79 candidates from 19 countries take the oath to become U.S. citizens, representing a sharp increase in the number of applications.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reports a significant increase in applications for naturalization in the past year. As a result, it has caused a slow down in processing times. USCIS Public Affairs Officer Maria Elena Upson says the process is typically a five or six month wait, but now they are up to 10 months.

“There isn’t an exact reason [why there is an increase in applications]…,” Epson says. “Do we tend to see an increase when there is a presidential election? Of course we do.”

Salvador Macias, an immigration attorney with Ybarra-Maldonado Law Group, says there has been a burst of Latino people trying to become citizens. He says it’s because “they’re afraid of what can happen, and now they want a say.”

“I do think that Trump’s presidency has a lot to do with the rise in citizenship applications,” Macias says. “It’s because of fear.”

The USCIS says they are going to be adding a second interview process; previously there has been only one. They also plan to hire more staff to review the high volume of application and extra security checks.

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In this segment:

Maria Elena Upson: Public Affairs Officer, USCIS
Salvador Macias: Immigration Attorney, Ybarra-Maldonado Law Group

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