Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The number of immigrants in the United States seeking and obtaining citizenship increased significantly last year, according to numbers obtained from the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.

CIS said 721,268 immigrants, including 9,374 military personnel, became naturalized citizens last year. That is a 22 percent increase over the 2005 numbers, when 588,994 immigrants became naturalized citizens.

The number of people requesting citizenship forms from the CIS Web site also increased. Last year, 696,020 citizenship forms were downloaded, up 15 percent over the 594,260 forms downloaded in 2005.

“It’s not unusual for us to see fluctuations in the numbers of people who apply for citizenship each year,” said CIS spokeswoman Sharon Rummery, when asked whether the numbers could reflect congressional debate last year about illegal immigration.

Meanwhile, federal officials yesterday announced the sweep of more than 750 illegal aliens across the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The weeklong series of raids targeted those who had been deported previously for crimes or who had ignored deportation orders.

Federal officials called it one of the biggest such sweeps in U.S. history.

The Associated Press reported that 338 illegal aliens were apprehended in their homes and 423 were identified in local jails.

On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff met with Republican senators on Capitol Hill to discuss the arrests last month of 1,297 illegal workers at Swift & Co. meatpacking plants in Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, Texas and Utah. The senators reportedly were upset with how the raid was conducted, saying it revealed flaws in a federal program designed to help businesses screen their payrolls for illegal aliens. “I can’t think of a system that would be better designed to fail,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, told the AP.

Also on Monday, CIS announced plans to revamp its naturalization test to “create a test and testing process that is standardized, fair and meaningful.” In a “fact sheet,” CIS acknowledged that “various studies found that the exam lacked standardized content, instruments, protocols or scoring system.”

The bureau said the new standardized testing should “encourage civic learning and patriotism among prospective citizens … with an emphasis on the fundamental concepts of American democracy and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.”

Creating new standardized tests at CIS addresses at least one of the major challenges facing the agency, which receives $2 billion in annual funding. Last year, Congress voted to withhold $47 million from the department’s budget until Mr. Chertoff and the Government Accountability Office complete plans for a major technology overhaul that critics say is needed to remedy long waits and bureaucratic problems for people trying to immigrate legally.

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