Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Millions of Legal Immigrants Skipping U.S. Citizenship

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

 HARRISBURG, Pa. - Many legal immigrants in Pennsylvania and across the nation aren't pursuing U.S. citizenship. Although more than 8 million people nationwide are eligible to apply, many have never even taken the first step.

Some immigrants cite the expense, which is about $700 in fees plus the cost of a lawyer. Others worry they don't speak English well enough to pass the citizenship test.

Mark Lopez, director of Pew Research Center's Hispanic Research Center, cited some key differences between having legal permanent status and being a U.S. citizen.

"Legal Permanent Resident status does come with a number of benefits: being able to work legally; they do have to pay taxes, they can travel," he said. "But it doesn't include the right to vote or never be deported, because once you become a U.S. citizen you cannot be deported."

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that only 36 percent of Mexicans who are in the United States legally actually go on to become naturalized citizens. This percentage is much lower than that of other groups, including Cubans, Indians and Europeans.

The National Association of Latino Elected Officials is trying to encourage people to take the pathway to citizenship so they'll have the right to vote.

"Oftentimes, immigrants coming into this country do not come with a full understanding of the law of the United States," said Julissa Gutierrez, acting director of national programs and community relations at the association's educational fund. "They also come with experiences from their home country that may bar them as well. So, these are things that, you know, it's a learning process."

The Pew poll also found that the vast majority of immigrants and the American public support a pathway to citizenship.

This story is based on original reporting by Feet in 2 Worlds and made possible in part by the Voqal Fund.

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