U.S. citizenship applications surge in Fresno County

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Fresno's Immigrant Services Office saw 2,754 applications for citizenship between October and December of 2016 - a 42 percent increase from the year before. (KFSN)

The Central Valley has seen a surge in eligible immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship, and many cite President Donald Trump's tough talk on immigration for the spike.

The number of naturalization applications turned into the Fresno office has almost doubled from a year ago. Last month, 699 new Americans took the oath of U.S. citizenship during a naturalization ceremony in Fresno.

The 2,754 applications for citizenship were turned into the Fresno office between October and December of 2016. That compares with 1,934 applications the year before; the figure represents a 42 percent increase.

Matt Espinoza Watson teaches Chicano Studies at Fresno City College.

"The number is shocking in the sense that it's a big jump, but it doesn't surprise me in the sense that if I were in that situation I'd be wanting to fix my papers right now too," he explained. "And it represents the general fear I have heard and sensed, especially among our immigrant students."

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says fluctuations in the number of those seeking naturalization are common.

"They can be caused by all kinds of social situations," Sharon Rummery with USCIS said. "Often times just having the economy improve will cause more people to feel like they have $725 to spend."

That is what it costs to apply for citizenship, but at Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries, the number of people inquiring about citizenship has doubled this year.

Zach Darrah says even though refugees maintain legal status, many families are still worried.

"With the new administration coming in this year, we've seen an incredible increase in folks coming in," he said. "'How do I get my citizenship? What do I do, maybe I have an expired green card? How do I get a new one?'"

It normally takes eight months to complete the process for U.S. citizenship through immigrants from Mexico, the Philippines, China and Vietnam often have longer wait times.

The reason is so many people from those countries are already here filing petitions, and each country can only make up seven percent of the total amount of visas processed each year. This leads to a backlog and a longer wait time.

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