Fresno’s record on naturalizing U.S. citizens isn’t just bad — it’s among the worst, says study

The Fresno metro area is among the top three worst large cities nationwide for eligible immigrants to become naturalized U.S. citizens, according to an immigration study released Monday.

According to the study published by Boundless, a Seattle-based tech immigration organization, among cities nationwide Fresno had the second lowest rate of people applying to become naturalized citizens, among those who are eligible.

That’s based on 2017 data showing 54,000 immigrants in Fresno were eligible to become naturalized citizens that year. But only 2,631 immigrants, or 4.8 percent, became U.S. citizens.

In comparison, Dallas, Texas had the lowest rate of people nationwide applying to become naturalized citizens, as there were some 257,000 immigrants eligible to apply for citizenship, but only 11,597 immigrants (4.5 percent) applied.

Phoenix, had the third lowest rate of people applying to become naturalized citizens, with 142,000 eligible immigrants, but only 7,800 immigrants (5.5 percent) applied.

Xiao Wang, co-founder and chief executive officer for Boundless, said Fresno’s place in the study is based on 2017 data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The cities with the highest rates of people applying for citizenship include Columbus, Ohio, with over a 20 percent, Cincinnati, Ohio with a 16.8 percent and Pittsburgh, Pa. with a 14.5 percent.

Nationwide, there’s 9 million people with a green card, meaning they are eligible to apply to become a U.S. citizen, according to the study.

This is the first time, such analysis has been conducted, Wang said.

“It’s meant to really start the conversation,” he said. “And letting individual places come up with the reasons.”

The top best cities overall for immigrants to become naturalized are Cleveland, Ohio; Riverside, Calif. and Louisville, Ky.

The study also found the time to process an application to become a citizen in the last two years increased to more than 10 months, which doubled from 2012 to 2016 nationwide.

The processing times are not expected to be reduced anytime soon, especially because the government’s efficiency in addressing the backlog has been at its lowest level in the last decade, the study says.

The chances of applications being denied have also increased over the last few years, the study says.

As part of the conversation, individual localities can take a look at what their backlog looks like, their denial rate and the size of their eligible population.

Localities can also study the level of services available in the community for immigration-related matters and how aware the community is of those services, Wang said.

“We don’t know why that is the case in Fresno,” Wang said of the low rate of eligible immigrants applying to become naturalized. “I think for each area... there might be different reasons.”

Generally, access to a United States Citizen and Immigration Services field office can also play a role in the number of people who become naturalized citizens.

According to the study, some areas have multiple government field offices where people can go get their citizenship interviews done, while people in other cities have to travel more than 150 miles to reach the nearest field office.

Sharon Rummery, spokeswoman with United States Citizen and Immigration Services, didn’t return an inquiry seeking comment by deadline.

The time it takes to become naturalized varies by location.

In Houston, Texas, Wang said, the median time is takes someone to complete their naturalization process is 17 months. In Fresno it only takes seven months, and in Cleveland it only takes four months.

The dynamics are also different by location. For example, in Seattle there are various nonprofits that encourage different ethnic groups to apply for citizenship, and offer various civic tests prep workshops.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know what type of wrap-around services (are) available in Fresno,” Wang said.

The current immigration climate in the country also doesn’t help the situation.

“I think that there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of fear when it comes to immigration and the immigration process, especially because there is a lot of information and a lot of misinformation,” Wang said. “I think immigrants just really want to feel more confident in terms of how things work.”

Samuel Molina, state director with Mi Familia Vota, said one of the reasons for the low naturalization rate in Fresno could be the “lack of resources” in the Central Valley.

It’s important to note that cities, such as Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose collaborate with organizations that serve the immigrant community. The benefits of working together, he said, is that cities get to “hear the needs of the immigrant community.”

Yesenia Amaro: 559-441-6144, @YeseniaAmaro