Report: More Than A Million New Citizens Last Year

Report: More than a million new citizens last year

By Stephen Wall
The Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, CA), April 12, 2009

Motivated by the historic presidential election, a record number of people became citizens last year.

A little more than 1million people were naturalized in the United States in 2008, barely topping the previous high set in 1996, according to a new federal report.

The San Bernardino-Riverside-Ontario metropolitan area ranked 10th in the country with 23,627 naturalizations, nearly double the previous year.

The numbers were compiled by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics.

The leading countries of birth of new citizens were Mexico, India, the Philippines, China and Cuba, the report stated.

People born in Latin American countries made up nearly half the nation's 1,046,539 new citizens, according to an analysis of the data by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

It's the largest number of Latino naturalizations in recent history, the organization said.

'We absolutely do think that the fact that 2008 was a historic presidential election was a significant factor in the record number of naturalizations in 2008,' said Rosalind Gold, the organization's senior director of policy research and advocacy. 'We know that Latino legal permanent residents who decided they wanted to submit applications in 2007 were very much motivated by a desire to make their voices heard in the electoral process and cast ballots in 2008.'

Emilio Amaya, director of the nonprofit San Bernardino Community Service Center, said nearly 1,000 citizenship applications were processed through his office last year.

Amaya said a large-scale civic engagement campaign involving Spanish-language news media, unions and community organizations helped contribute to the high number of new citizens.

Many of those new citizens went to the polls and voted in overwhelming numbers for President Barack Obama in the November election.

Latinos, like millions of other Americans, were captivated by Obama's promise of economic recovery and a new foreign policy direction, Amaya said.

'I think everybody was excited about seeing change in the White House,' Amaya said. 'People understood the only way to do it was by becoming citizens and participating in the political process.'

Jose Calderon, a professor of sociology and Chicano studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, said the roots of the recent citizenship push go back to 2005.

That year, the House of Representatives approved a bill to crack down on illegal immigration. Even though the measure did not pass the Senate, it was the catalyst for massive pro-immigrant marches across the country in 2006.

'During the marches, we were always saying, `We're not just marching. We're turning our marches into going door to door and getting people to become citizens and register to vote,'' Calderon said. 'The combination of this is really going to have some impact long term.'