Millions of legal immigrants skipping U.S. citizenship

(written by Mona Shand)

Many legal immigrants in Missouri and across the country aren't pursuing citizenship.

Even though more than 8 million nationwide are eligible to apply, many have never even taken the first step.

Some immigrants cite the expense of 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 the Hispanic Research Center at the Pew Research Center in Washington, says there are 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," he explains. "Being able to work legally, they do have to pay taxes, they can travel.

"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 only 36 percent of Mexicans who are here legally actually go on to become naturalized U.S. citizens.

This percentage is much less than that for other groups, including Cubans, Indians and Europeans.

Julissa Gutierrez is acting director of National Programs and Community Relations at the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund.

Her group is trying to encourage people to take the pathway to citizenship so they have the right to vote.

"Often times immigrants coming into this country do not come with a full understanding of the law of the United States," she explains. "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, do 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.

(provided by Missouri News Service)