Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – The number of legal immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship has surged by more than 20 percent since 2015, according to a recent Pew Research study – with Mexicans the least likely to apply.
Applications for citizenship were up by 21 percent in the first half of this year at 525,000, compared to the same period in 2016 when 435,000 applied, the report found.
The total number of applications in 2016 was 972,000, 24 percent higher than the approximately 800,000 who applied in 2015.
According to the report, in 2015 there were 45 million immigrants living in the U.S., of whom 11.9 million were “lawful permanent residents holding green cards.”
Among those green card holders, 9.3 million were eligible to apply for citizenship.
Of the 9.3 million, 37 percent or 3.4 million were of Mexican origin, but they were the least likely of all immigrant groups to seek naturalization.
In 2015, 67 percent of all lawful immigrants living in the U.S. and eligible for citizenship had applied – but for Mexicans the rate was considerably lower – 42 percent. That rate hasn’t changed much since then, the report found.
In comparison to the 42 percent of eligible Mexicans applying, 83 percent of those from the Middle East applied and 74 percent of those from Africa.
Middle Eastern immigrants had the highest naturalization rate among all immigrant origin groups, while African immigrants accounted for the largest increase in naturalization rate in the last decade, according to the report.
The report’s research is based on U.S. census data, a year-round survey of 3.5 million households, and a monthly survey of 55,000 households.
It found that Mexicans have lower levels of English proficiency than other groups, which might explain the group’s reluctance to apply for citizenship, since the application process usually involves an interview in English.
The Pew report found that “only about one-fourth (26 percent) of Mexican immigrants eligible to naturalize are proficient in English, compared with about half (51 percent) of lawful immigrants from other countries of origin.”
It also found that Mexican immigrants holding green cards in the U.S. “have lower family incomes than lawful immigrants of other origins.”
Other factors discouraging Mexicans from applying for citizenship, the report said, could include the cost of the application and a lack of awareness that Mexican law allows them to have citizenship in both countries.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, criticized the process of granting green cards to immigrants, claiming that it favors “family ties” over other factors.
“The system we have for deciding who comes to the U.S. as a legal immigrant doesn’t reflect the needs of the country or take into account people’s likelihood to succeed here,” he said.
“If you don’t speak the language of the country you are less likely to feel a part of the country. It leads into the issue of cost: people who don’t speak English are relegated to very low wage jobs.”
Mehlman said lower interest in applying for citizenship among Mexicans living in the U.S. “is more a consequence of falling behind economically and not acquiring the language skills that allow you to assimilate into the mainstream.”
Fear of losing Mexican citizenship is a factor discouraging legal Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. from applying for citizenship, said Professor Javier Urbano Reyes, coordinator of immigration studies at the Ibero-American University in Mexico City.
“Many of them continue to think [incorrectly] that they would lose their legal rights in Mexico,” if they become citizens of the U.S., he told CNSNews.com.
Some may also feel that obtaining citizenship in the U.S. “is a form of showing disloyalty to Mexico.”
Finally, the process of seeking citizenship in the U.S. and the requirement to appear before a judge has some immigrants fearing that they may end up being deported, Urbano Reyes said.
Pew noted that the year 1997 still holds the record with the most citizenship applications, at 1.41 million.
The spike in applications in 1997, the report said, was “triggered in large part by congressional legislation passed a decade earlier that provided a path to lawful permanent residence and eventual citizenship for many unauthorized immigrants.”