How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A longer application form for hopeful US citizens

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Immigration officials rolled out a new application form for U.S. citizenship on Tuesday - 21 pages in length - twice as long as the current form.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials said the changes bring what's known as Form N-400 in line with two national security laws passed in the mid-2000s. Another reason the application is longer: electronic bar codes embedded in the online form, which officials say will capture the data entered and reduce human error and help staff process applications more quickly.

The changes have been years in the making and include a series of new questions, ranging from whether applicants participated in paramilitary group to questions that pertain to applicants' parents and children.

According to a statement on the USCIS website, the new questions were added" conform with the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004 and Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2007. The additional information is important for USCIS to make a complete and informed determination of an applicant’s eligibility for U.S. citizenship. The questions relate not only to concerns surrounding good moral character but also to issues relating to the security of the United States."

But critics regard some of the new questions are complex, and could make applying more difficult. Rosalind Gold of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, which has a prominent naturalization program, recited one example:

""Did you ever sell, give, or provide weapons to any person, or help another person sell, give, or provide weapons to any person?' " Gold said. "Just the number of phrases, the length of the question, is something that people have to read very carefully and understand it."

Gold and others contend that immigrants who lack strong English skills may need additional help with their forms, maybe even legal advice. Organizations that help immigrants are planning workshops and education campaigns. But for now, they're advising people to file as soon as they can, since the current applications are still valid for 90 more days.

"We are encouraging applicants to come forward now," said Nasim Khansari, who coordinates citizenship outreach for Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles. "There's only 90 days from the time that we can use this old form to the new form, so come forward now and fill out your application while we can still use the old form, before May 5."

According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are an estimated 8.8 million legal permanent residents who are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

USCIS has released a video explaining the changes.

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