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U.S.-Mexico citizenship deadline spurs rush

Salt Lake resident Manuel Aleman has been in the United States since 1972 — he's a citizen of this country, having relinquished his original Mexican citizenship.

Nevertheless, he was in the Salt Lake Mexican Consulate Thursday, filling out the paperwork to become a dual citizen of Mexico and the United States.

"I've been here a long time, I have my family here, but who knows what may happen that I might want to return to Mexico someday," he said in Spanish.

In March 1998, Mexican legislation took effect allowing Mexican-born citizens of other countries to reclaim rights that had been automatically renounced when they took on their new citizenship. The law also applied to anyone born outside Mexico but whose mother or father was born in Mexico.

The law expired Thursday and, predictably, the last-day rush was on at Mexican consulates across the United States. Hundreds of people lined up in the San Diego consulate, for example, to the point where consulate workers set up desks outside under tents to attend to the crowd. Similar numbers were seen in Chicago, where applicants lined up in the cold this week at 5 a.m. Applications also swelled from perhaps a dozen a month to dozens a day at consulates in Oregon, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Florida, Colorado, New York and Massachusetts.

A proposal to make the legislation permanent is being considered by Mexico's Congress.

"They want to be Mexicans because they feel that it's part of them, even if they've been here all their lives," said Carlos Yescas of the Boston consulate office.

It doesn't affect their citizenship in this country. People who become citizens of other countries do not lose their U.S. citizenship unless they specifically renounce it.

In Utah, the past several days have been busy but orderly. Rafful Samano, civil registrar at the Salt Lake Mexican consulate, estimated that between 100 and 200 people have come to claim dual citizenship in the days approaching the deadline. The consulate was crowded Thursday morning, but wait times have generally been far less than the several hours of wait time common at other consulates.

Aleman and his niece, Rosio Roman, who was in the consulate with him Thursday morning, consider the United States their country, but "there are advantages to being a citizen of Mexico," said Roman, who claimed dual citizenship last July. Dual citizens have the right to own property anywhere in Mexico and legal status to live and work there with rights equal to those of any other citizen. The only restriction is that they cannot vote or hold political office.

Before 1998, many Mexicans were reluctant to become U.S. citizens because they feared losing real estate, inheritances or businesses in Mexico.

The process is quite simple. You show up to the consulate with two photographs of yourself, your birth certificate, another form of identification, your U.S. citizenship certificate and $15. You fill out a form and you're done.

Census figures show about 7.8 million people who were born in Mexico lived in the United States in 2000. Of those, 1.6 million had become U.S. citizens. Overall, 21.7 million people were either from Mexico or of Mexican heritage — about two-thirds of the nation's 32.8 million Hispanics.

Figures for the first two years are not available, but according to Mexico's Foreign Relations ministry, more than 30,000 people have completed the dual nationality process in the last three years.