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Monday, July 05, 2004

Valley Morning Star But "I really want to be a citizen," she said.

Valley Morning Star Online Edition
The ceremony at the U.S Federal Building and Courthouse was one of about 122 held across the country last week. The Brownsville group represented 18 of 16,000 new Americans sworn in nationwide.

"This Fourth July is the beginning of my new life and celebration as a U.S citizen," Martinez, 80, said.

Born in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Martinez has spent more than half his life in Brownsville.

In November, he will vote in a U.S. election for the first time. "(To) vote in the next presidential election is my new right as citizen of this country," he said. "It took me time and a lot of effort to do it, but finally, I have become part of this country."

Martinez’s successful quest for citizenship is the exception in a country where an estimated 7.5 million immigrants eligible for U.S. citizenship are discouraged by long waits, confusing paperwork and problems finding affordable classes that prepare them for citizenship examinations.

Maria del Rosario Gomez knows all about the process. Her journey began in Chiapas. She entered the United States illegally, after crossing the Rio Grande. She is now a permanent legal resident.

"I love to be legal and I love it here," said the 56-year-old Cameron Park resident.

"My life is the best it can be here. In Chiapas, we didn’t have a doctor, no health care for the elderly. So, I love the United States."

But "I really want to be a citizen," she said.

"We can only ensure our future in this country if we naturalize, vote and become law-abiding citizens."

But first, she said "you need to learn the language and wait for about two or three years to receive at least a letter for the interview and test."

According to U.S. immigration officials, the process to obtain legal residence, work visas and citizenship is improving.

Eduardo Aguirre, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the agency is working to reduce a backlog of residency and citizenship applications without security measures would being compromised.

"We’re going to retain what makes America great by keeping our open doors," he said. "But we’re going to make sure they’re well-guarded."

The bureau has about 6.1 million applications pending for U.S citizenship, green card and various visas. Of those, 3.7 million are considered backlogged, meaning they’ve been pending for more than six months, Aguirre told the members of the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee on June 7.

Aguirre acknowledged the backlog is a serious problem, but said he expects to reduce processing times to less than six months.

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