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LA, national citizenship applications increase as election rhetoric heats up

New citizens wave US flags before being sworn in during a Naturalization Ceremony.
FILE: New U.S. citizens wave their flags at a naturalization ceremony. Citizenship applications are on the rise as interest increases in the November presidential election.

An uptick in U.S. citizenship applications nationally and in the Los Angeles area continues as the November 2016 election draws nearer.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released new data recently showing that, between Jan. 1 and March 31, some 252,254 new citizenship applications were received — the most of any quarter in the past year.

The count is nearly 55,000 more applications than the agency received during the same time period in 2015.

The greater Los Angeles area saw the second-highest number of citizenship applications filed in the country, from roughly 19,000 to 24,000 in the first quarter for a 24 percent increase over a year ago.

The L.A. region ranked second only to the New York City area in numbers of applications submitted.

It's not unusual to see a small spike in naturalization applications ahead of a national election, but this time it's more dramatic, said Louis DeSipio, University of California, Irvine political scientist.

“I think what we are seeing is a function of the election," DeSipio said, "but not every election leads to this sort of outcome. This election so far at least has been very antagonistic toward immigrants, and that has spurred a lot of interest in naturalization.”

The increase comes as Latino and Asian-American advocacy groups and labor unions have mounted citizenship drives in reaction to anti-immigrant rhetoric in the presidential campaign by candidates like Republican Donald Trump.

The groups' goal is to get legal permanent residents to naturalize in time to register and vote in the November general election.

People attending citizenship workshops have expressed an interest in voting, said Paula Valle Castañon, communications director for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund (NALEO) in Los Angeles.

"What we have found is we've had a lot of individuals that were coming out for the workshops who had been legal permanent residents for like 25, 30, 35 years," Valle said. "They would have been more than eligible. The large reason, they were telling us, is that they wanted to become citizens because they wanted to vote in November."

According to NALEO, roughly 2.3 million legal permanent residents in California are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, and about 8.6 million nationwide.

For those who haven't yet applied, the window to naturalize in time for November has closed: it's currently taking six to seven months to process citizenship applications, according to USCIS.