LOS ANGELES – The number of Mexican-born immigrants who became U.S. citizens swelled by nearly 50 percent last year amid a massive campaign by Spanish-language media and immigrant advocacy groups to help eligible residents apply for citizenship, according to a government report released Thursday.
Despite historically low rates of naturalization, the number of Mexicans who became citizens increased to 122,000 from 84,000 over the previous year, with California and Texas posting the largest gains. Salvadorans and Guatemalans also showed significant increases at a time when the overall number of naturalizations declined by 6 percent.
At the same time, the number of citizenship applications filed doubled to 1.4 million last year, the report by the U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics found.
The surge, which represents the largest year-to-year increase in Mexican naturalizations this decade, came amid pitched national debate over immigration reform. In their report, U.S. immigration officials cited the campaign by Spanish-language media, along with a desire to apply before steep fee increases took effect, as two major reasons for the jump in naturalizations.
“Immigrants are tired of the tone and tenor of the immigration debate, which they feel is humiliating and does not recognize their contributions,” said Rosalind Gold of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund in Los Angeles.
The surge in new Hispanic voters could impact the political landscape this November, analysts said. Louis DiSipio, a University of California, Irvine, political science professor, said one of the biggest potential effects could be in Florida, a key battleground state that posted 54,500 new citizens last year. Although the ethnic Cuban population there has dominated the Hispanic political landscape and tended to vote Republican, he said, more of the newer immigrants are coming from South America and trending Democratic. For the first time this decade, more Hispanics were registered as Democrats than Republicans – 35 percent to 33 percent as of this spring, according to Gold.