Immigration

Nearly 100,000 Texans Were Approved For Citizenship Last Year

New naturalization numbers are in, as the administration considers a 61% hike in citizenship fees.

New U.S. citizens take the oath of citizenship at a naturalization ceremony at the Fort Davis National Historic Site in 2017.

Nearly 100,000 people were approved for citizenship in Texas in fiscal year 2019, according to new data released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Statewide, the number of people who will become citizens increased 50% from fiscal year 2018.

The approvals come after a backlog of cases delayed wait times by more than a year for some applicants.

Texas state director of the NALEO Educational Fund Elizabeth Bille said application processing has sped back up thanks to lobbying efforts directed at elected officials.

“At the beginning of last year there was an 18-24 month backlog that existed with the applications,” she said. In prior administrations processing times have been as short as 6 months, she said.

Around 330,000 people are waiting for their applications to be approved, almost double the number of cases pending in 2016.

Seven out of every ten new citizens in Texas were processed by immigration offices in Houston or Dallas.

A new barrier to citizenship

Despite the increase in citizenship approvals, it may soon become more costly to file naturalization paperwork because of a new Trump administration rule.

The Department of Homeland Security has proposed increasing application fees by 61% to $1,170. Administration officials said the fee increase would cover the true cost of applications.

But, some non-profits are worried a fee increase could discourage long-term legal residents from becoming citizens.

Mariana Sanchez helps low-income immigrants become citizens with the non-profit Bonding Against Adversity in Houston and said a lot of people she serves earn below 150% of the poverty line.

“It's really hard for them to save not even one dollar which makes it really hard for them to consider to apply for citizenship,” Sanchez previously told Houston Public Media.

She said increasing the fee adds to other barriers to getting citizenship, like poor literacy and language skills.

“One of the biggest barriers to our communities is the fee,” said NALEO’s Elizabeth Bille. “Currently, the fee is at $725 so it's quite big of a cost for anyone who is currently applying.”

For now, Bille said Houston-area non-profits have seen a small uptick in applications because people want to get the paperwork done before fees go up.

Bille said nearly 750,000 Latinos are eligible to be naturalized in Texas. And an estimated 300,000 immigrants in the Houston are are eligible to become citizens, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

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Elizabeth Trovall

Elizabeth Trovall

Immigration Reporter

Elizabeth Trovall is an immigration reporter for Houston Public Media. She joined the News 88.7 team after several years abroad in Santiago, Chile, where she reported on business, energy, politics and culture. Trovall's work has been featured on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Marketplace, Here and Now, Latino...

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