AUSTIN — More than 300 people from around 60 countries became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony in Austin Tuesday.
Generations of Maria Nieves Andrade’s family were in attendance to support her in her 14-month journey.
“My grandmother – for her to do it at 80 years old, for her to go to San Antonio, take the test and pass it and be sworn in as a U.S. citizen, I think it’s a major accomplishment for her, as well as for the family,” grandson Tomas Natal said.
According to numbers from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as of the first quarter for fiscal year 2018, a total of 163,000 people became naturalized citizens. That’s 57,000 more people than the same period in the previous fiscal year.
“Us as people born in the U.S., I think we may take that for granted,” Natal said. “I don’t think we realize how hard it is to become a U.S. citizen.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane addressed the crowd that filled the Lyndon B. Johnson Auditorium, explaining his own background. His mother’s family is from Hungary and moved to the U.S. in the late 1800s, while his father’s family has some Irish roots.
“There’s not a United States citizen in this great country of ours who doesn’t have an immigrant story,” he said.
Austin immigration attorney Paul Parsons says the citizenship application process has been getting more difficult recently.
“The backlogs for citizenship applications nationwide have soared,” he said.
Parsons says as other immigration matters have become more pressing, citizenship applications haven’t been given top priority.
“Previously, an average citizenship case was only taking about five months,” he said. “Right now, they’re taking more than a year and the backlog is growing.”
Mohammed Ahmed has lived in the U.S. for 17 years, moving from India to begin a better life. He describes the U.S. as a place with “good opportunities, a better life and freedom.”
His son, Mohammed Ahmed, was naturalized a few years ago and credits his dad for helping him through the application process.
He said, “I feel like now that he’s a citizen, his dream has finally come true.”