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February 1997, Volume 4, Number 2

Immigration, Naturalization and Dual Citizenship

Immigration. The INS announced that 911,000 immigrants were legally admitted to the US in FY96, up 26 percent from 720,461 in FY95. The INS projects the admission of about one million immigrants a year over the next two years as newly naturalized citizens bring their families to the US. There is no limit to the number of immediate family members of US citizens who may be admitted.

The chief reason that an unusually low number of immigrants were admitted in FY 95 was that many aliens in the US waited in 1996 for the INS to develop a more convenient way of adjusting their status to that of immigrants. Starting in FY 95, aliens already in the US and waiting to be admitted as legal immigrants did not have to return to their countries of origin to obtain their immigration visas. But the INS was slow to develop administrative procedures for the so-called 245 i adjustments, so that in early 1996 some 403,000 foreigners were still waiting to take advantage of the more convenient procedures.

Some 222,254 immediate relatives of US citizen immigrants were admitted in FY95, along with 238,122 family immigrants in other categories. Employment quotas were the vehicle for 85,336 immigrants (and their family members) in FY95, well under the 140,000 annual limit. There were 99,490 refugees admitted. In addition, 7,837 asylum applicants were recognized as refugees in FY95 and thus granted immigrant status. There were 47,245 diversity immigrants admitted.

Migration from Mexico has become the largest mass migration in US history. There are almost seven million Mexican-born persons in the US in early 1997, including about four million legal immigrants, two million unauthorized residents and one million naturalized US citizens.

Millions of people are expected to file applications between February 3 and March 3 for the 55,000 diversity visas available. Applicants must: (1) be nationals of countries that sent fewer than 50,000 immigrants to the US during the past five years in the immediate family or employment preference categories and, (2) have a high school education or its equivalent or within the past five years have two years of work experience in a job that requires at least two years of training or experience.

Nationals of China, India, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Great Britain, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico and Jamaica and, in 1997, Poland, cannot apply--nationals of all other nations may apply. More details are available at />
Over the past three years, some 23 million foreigners applied for 165,000 diversity immigration visas. About five million were disqualified for, e.g., not having the requisite experience and education.

Beginning in March 1997, US residents sponsoring immigrants must have an income at least 25 percent above the poverty line or at least $19,500 for a family of four. The number of refugees expected in FY97 is 78,000.

Naturalization and Voting. The backlog of immigrants waiting to become US citizens is lengthening, so that the wait between application and interview in 1997 is typically longer than the six month goal of the INS. Many of those whose applications for naturalization are waiting in backlogs are persons receiving federal assistance that will be denied to legal immigrants between April and August, 1997.

Anxiety is expected to increase as the Social Security Administration in early February begins mailing notices informing one million foreign-born Supplemental Security Income recipients nationwide--including more than 300,000 in California who receive a maximum $640 per month--that their payments will end in August unless they have become US citizens or qualify under one of several exemptions

To avoid non-citizens voting, the INS announced that it would revise its letter to foreigners who pass the naturalization test so that the letter makes clear that they are not US citizens until they are actually sworn in. The letter that now begins: "Congratulations! Your application for naturalization has been approved," has led to misunderstanding.

The new immigration law permits the deportation of those who commit felonies, including giving false information on voter registration forms.

The INS announced that it would no longer conduct naturalization interviews at Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, the Orange County agency that allegedly registered and encouraged at least 18 persons to vote on November 5, 1996 who were not yet sworn in as US citizens. Hermandad was a subcontractor of Naturalization Assistance Services of Florida, which lost its INS contract to provide citizenship testing services because it was selling the answers to some applicants in Texas and Florida.

On February 1, 1997, it was reported that at least 200 persons who were preparing for naturalization at Hermandad, and were not US citizens, voted on November 5, 1997. Hermandad organized protests of the Los Angeles Times, claiming that its reporting of potential voter fraud fed anti-immigrant xenophobia.

About 17 percent of the 450,000 citizenship interviews in Southern California in 1996 were conducted by the INS in private agencies such as Hermandad. After passing the INS exam, agencies such as Hermandad often registered persons to vote--Hermandad registered at least 1,347 persons in 1996, of whom nearly 800 voted in November, 1996. Hermandad has a $2.5-million annual budget, including about $1.6 million in state and federal grants.

Several INS agents said that their supervisors were aware that private agencies such as Hermandad were having foreigners fill out registration cards immediately after their interviews, before they were sworn in as US citizens.

The INS expects 1.7 million naturalization applications in FY97.

Dual Citizenship. Immigrants in the US are reportedly in the forefront of efforts to get their home countries to offer dual citizenship, according to a December 30, 1996 New York Times report. According to the report, some of the most active proponents of dual nationality are prosperous immigrants who want to invest in their native countries and avoid the regulations that apply to foreigners. The nations of origin of seven of the 10 largest immigrant groups in New York City permit dual citizenship, including the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Colombia.

Ireland and Poland have long offered dual citizenship to nationals abroad and their children.

The United States does not encourage dual nationality and would prefer to avoid dual nationality and its complications, but the US government notes that it cannot control what another nation allows and does not attempt to deny US citizenship to Americans with a second passport. The US has no data on the number of dual nationals in the country; about two percent of Canadians are dual nationals.

Under new Mexican legislation approved by the federal government and awaiting ratification by Mexico's states, naturalized US citizens from Mexico are expected to be able to regain their Mexican citizenship in 1997-98 while remaining US citizens. Some 3.5 to 4 million legal Mexican immigrants who have not yet become US citizens could become naturalized US citizens and keep their Mexican citizenship. It is not clear whether dual US and Mexican citizens will be able to vote in elections in both countries. The Mexican consul in El Paso said that Mexican nationals in the US would be able to vote for the Mexican president, but not in Mexican state and local elections unless they were primarily residents of Mexico.

The decision by Mexico to permit dual citizenship is seen as an effort to preserve ties to Mexican émigrés who are likely to remain in the US, but who may invest or retire in Mexico if they receive the preferences granted to nationals. Mexican law, for example, limits the ownership of property with 100 kilometers of the border and 50 kilometers of the coast to Mexican citizens.

Patrick McDonnell, "INS Backlog Growing as Aid Cutoff Gets Closer," Los Angeles Times, February 3, 1997. Nancy Cleeland, Peter M Warren and Esther Schrader, "Records seized at immigrant agency's office," Los Angles Times, January 15, 1996. Somini Sengupta, "Immigrants Applaud Growing Access to Dual Citizenship," New York Times, December 30, 1996.