August 15, 2008

Dallas County addresses rise in foreign-born Latino population

12:00 AM CDT on Friday, August 15, 2008
By DIANNE SOLÍS / The Dallas Morning News

As Dallas County continues to see its demographic hue deepen, another truth emerges: More Latinos here are foreign-born than in other parts of the state and nation.

Michael Aytes of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was in Dallas on Thursday. About half of the county's Latino population in 2006 was foreign-born. That was the case for only a third of Latinos in the state and about 40 percent nationwide.

And the speed of change here is swift. The latest Census Bureau report says that 38.1 percent of Dallas County's population last year was Latino, up a percentage point from a year earlier. Latinos make up the largest ethnic group in the county, and have since 2006.

"Diversity is happening faster than we thought," said Karl Eschbach, the state's demographer. Next month, the state of Texas will update its projections on when Hispanics become the majority in the state. It has previously projected it will happen a few years before 2030.

The demographic shift already has meant changes for churches and commerce, which both offer services in Spanish. Schools, governments and workplaces, however, sometimes struggle with the changes and their effects.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, for instance, has lagged behind in processing applications, after a record 1.4 million legal permanent residents who applied for naturalization last fiscal year. That was double the number of the previous year.

Many were trying to beat a steep fee increase that took effect at the end of July 2007. Others said they were motivated by a crackdown against illegal immigrants that seemed to reach to legal immigrants, too.

On Thursday, in a Dallas visit, Michael Aytes, acting deputy director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, said that nearly all the backlog from before July 30, 2007, would be cleared up in time for the new citizens to register to vote and cast ballots in the Nov. 4 election.

It now takes the Dallas office of USCIS 11 months to process a naturalization application. Around the country, most of the federal government's six dozen offices are processing applications within 14 months.

The goal was to have naturalization applications processed in five months, Mr. Aytes acknowledged.

"We understand that the right to vote is one of the most sacred rights of a citizen," Mr. Aytes said Thursday. But "we would be wrong to put voting rights ahead of making sure we are making the right decision to grant naturalization."

About a third of naturalizations came from Latin America in the 2007 fiscal year. It's expected that the pace of Latin American naturalizations will increase this fiscal year, due to the large numbers of Mexican legal permanent residents becoming U.S. citizens, Mr. Aytes said.

In Los Angeles, Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said he was pleased that the government cut through most of the backlog.

"We are delighted that more people will make it under the wire and vote in the elections," Mr. Vargas said. "But it isn't just about this one election," he said, promising more citizenship and voter campaigns after 2008.

No comments:

Should the Texas State Legislature pass immigration enforcement laws in 2009?