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Millions of Legal Immigrants Skipping U.S. Citizenship

PHOTO: New U.S. citizens take the oath of allegiance during a naturalization ceremony. Photo courtesy of the White House
PHOTO: New U.S. citizens take the oath of allegiance during a naturalization ceremony. Photo courtesy of the White House
May 6, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Many legal immigrants in New Mexico and across the country are not pursuing citizenship. Even though more than 8 million nationwide are eligible to apply, many have never even taken the first step. Some immigrants cite the expense, which is about $700 in fees, plus the cost of a lawyer. Others worry they do not speak English well enough to pass the citizenship test.

Mark Lopez directs the Hispanic Research Center, Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. He says there are some key differences between having legal permanent status and being a U.S. citizen.

"Legal Permanent Resident status does come with a number of benefits: being able to work legally, they do have to pay taxes, they can travel. But it doesn't include the right to vote or to never be deported, because once you become a U.S. citizen you can not be deported," Lopez says.

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that only 36 percent of Mexicans who are here legally actually go on to become naturalized U.S. citizens. This percentage is much lower than for other groups, including Cubans, Indians and Europeans.

Julissa Gutierrez is acting director of National Programs and Community Relations for the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund. Her group encourages people to take the pathway to citizenship so they have the right to vote.

"Often, immigrants coming into this country do not come with a full understanding of the law of the United States. They also come with experiences from their home country that may bar them, as well. It's a learning process," Gutierrez explains.

The Pew poll also found that the vast majority of immigrants, and the American public, do support a pathway to citizenship.

This story is based on original reporting by Feet in 2 Worlds and made possible in part by the Voqal Fund.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NM