Journey to citizenship: 350 people to become U.S. citizens in Austin

350 people to become citizens at Austin naturalization ceremony.
350 people to become citizens at Austin naturalization ceremony.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Three hundred and fifty people from more than 70 countries will become U.S. citizens in a naturalization ceremony at the LBJ Auditorium at The University of Texas Monday afternoon. For many of the people obtaining citizenship, this ceremony comes after years of waiting, paperwork and expenses. All have been living as lawful permanent residents in the U.S. for years, said Paul Parsons of the Austin Chapter of the Federal Bar Association.

One of the people being naturalized Monday is Brenda “Enice” Rios of Austin. Rios grew up in a town near the U.S. Mexico border. When she was 11 years old, her parents began the process of applying for legal permanent residency. By the time she was 14 her family moved to Texas with green cards. Rios said she was held back in school two years when she moved to the U.S. because her teachers assumed incorrectly that she couldn’t speak English before she even arrived to Texas.

After college, Rios moved to Austin and began applying for her citizenship. But she struggled to complete the paperwork on her own and other things kept getting in the way. But in 2016, she got the motivation she needed.

“So while the national elections are happening, I’m thinking it more and more. and as it gets closer to November, I think it’s time,” she said.

Rios said that she grew concerned about things she was seeing in the election and wanted to be able to vote.

“I was worried toward the middle to the end when President Trump started taking office and making some drastic changes, maybe I saw the writing, maybe I had a sixth sense about that this could be a game changer, it’s time to make a change,” Rios said.

“I had never thought about being concerned until now,” she continued. “And as I get older I want to travel, I want to buy a house, I want to make changes.”

Rios hired an attorney who helped get her to the “finish line” of obtaining citizenship. She said that she spent well over a thousand dollars to obtain her citizenship between the citizenship costs and legal fees. Now she is looking forward to the ceremony, and to voting in the next election.

Anastacio Peralta will become a citizen at the ceremony Monday as well. He said the 2016 election was also a big factor in his decision to go from permanent resident to citizen. Peralta said that President Trump’s immigration policies have made him nervous about what could happen with his status.

“I can vote, I can make a difference in the next years,” he explained.  “A lot of people now feel pressure to do something to look in other ways, to find a way to become a citizen.”

Peralta came from Mexico on a visa on 1997 after his father died. He came looking for a better education and in hopes of helping his family. Along the may he fell in love with a U.S. citizen and after they married, he applied for and received legal permanent residency.

His young family and their finances also drew him to finish the process of obtaining citizenship

“There are a lot of steps, a lot of frustration, because you have family who are depending on you, waiting to see what happens,” he said.

As the ceremony approaches, Peralta said he feels proud.

“Being a citizen is a big step for my family, is a big step for us,” he said.

The ceremony begins at 2 p.m. at 2313 Red River St.

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