Citizenship Applications Break Record

Citizenship applications break record
By The Associated Press

DENVER – The Denver office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services saw a record number of applications for naturalization in fiscal year 2006, a 28 percent increase from the previous 12 months.

The office, which serves Colorado and Wyoming, said it received 8,121 applications from Oct. 1, 2005, to last Sept. 30. In the previous fiscal year, there were 6,346.

The boost reflects an all-time high across the country. Nationally, there were 8 million legal permanent residents eligible to become citizens by applying for naturalization in 2004, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Among them, 100,000 were in Colorado.

Immigrants eligible for citizenship must be legal permanent residents for at least five years, have a working knowledge of English and have no criminal record. The naturalization process takes an average of seven months in Denver. Immigration officials say voter drives, citizenship seminars and negative publicity about illegal immigration have helped boost application numbers.

“I've never seen numbers this high – it's a great thing,” said Mario Ortiz, Denver district director for Citizenship and Immigration Services. “A lot of it has to do with the immigration debate this year, and a lot of it has to do with the partnerships we've been making with community-based organizations across the state.”

Many immigrants said they are worried their opportunity to become citizens could be stripped away and they could be taxed heavily. They said they also feel empathy for illegal immigrants, who have been targets of the current political debate that includes a new Colorado law barring them from many state services.

“I came here to work, and I go home to be with my family. But with the laws here, it's become a very unstable situation, and that is why people are here applying for citizenship,” said Andres Hernandez, 52, who has lived in the country for 24 years.

“I want to vote now. We have to find a good president and a good governor.”