Almost Half of New Americans in 2008 Were Latino

April 7, 2009 - 5:43 AM
<br />
Washington (AP) - Hispanics made up nearly half of the more than 1 million people who became U.S. citizens last year, according to a Hispanic advocacy group.
 
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials said the number of Latinos who became Americans in fiscal year 2008 more than doubled over the previous year, to 461,317. That's nearly half of the record 1,046,539 new citizens overall in 2008, a 58 percent increase from 2007.
 
"Latinos who naturalize are eager to demonstrate their commitment to America by becoming full participants in our nation's civic life," said NALEO president Arturo Vargas, whose nonpartisan group works to improve the citizenship process and increase Latino participation in civic activities.
 
NALEO based its findings on Homeland Security Department data on the number of new citizens last year who immigrated from predominantly Spanish-speaking countries.
 
In a report released in March, the agency attributed the record number of new citizens to the nearly 1.4 million citizenship applications it received in 2007. Most were from people who wanted to beat a $265 increase in the citizenship application fee, from $330 to $595.
 
But the department also credited "special efforts" by Hispanic media, community groups and a union with high immigrant membership, all of which urged eligible permanent residents to pursue citizenship.
 
In fiscal year 2008, 231,815 people originally from Mexico became citizens, up almost 90 percent from 2007. Increases in citizenship among Latino immigrants from other countries were: 39,871 from Cuba, up 160 percent from the previous year; 35,796 from El Salvador, up 109 percent; 17,954 from Nicaragua, up 120 percent; and 17,087 from Guatemala, a 109 percent rise.
 
Most of last year's new Hispanic citizens lived in California, followed by Florida.
 
Vargas cited the data to encourage the Obama administration and Congress to ease the cost of applying for immigration benefits.
 
"Despite the record number of naturalizations, there are still millions of eligible legal permanent residents who have not yet applied for U.S. citizenship or who encounter barriers in the naturalization process," Vargas said.