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Mahoning County witnesses a drop in interest in citizenship

By Bob Jackson

Sunday, October 14, 2001

Some immigrants have applied for passports back to their native countries.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A wave of patriotism set off by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks apparently hasn't spurred immigrants to rush for U.S. citizenship.
Mahoning County officials say they have had zero inquiries from immigrants asking how to become naturalized citizens.
In fact, it's been just the opposite. They've had several who want passports for their children so they can go back to their native countries.
Though she didn't have an exact number, Diana Slack said there has been "a run of people" from Pakistan and other Middle Eastern countries filing for passports for their children in Mahoning County.
Slack coordinates naturalization applications for the county clerk of courts.
"We didn't understand why they would want to take their children back to a country that could be right in the middle of a war," Slack said.
Reasons unknown: Most people haven't given a reason why they are leaving the country, and the staff is not permitted to ask, said Laverne Tisone, passports and naturalization coordinator.
"They just want to go home," she added.
Since the 1960s, Mahoning County has regularly had naturalization ceremonies for immigrants who become United States citizens, said Clerk of Courts Anthony Vivo.
In the beginning, the ceremonies were just once or twice a year and planned around special days, like the Fourth of July. But for about the past five years, the ceremonies have been once a month.
When Slack has a list of people who've met the qualifications for citizenship, a ceremony is scheduled for one of the common pleas courtrooms. Judges take turns presiding, administering an oath of citizenship and making speeches.
At the end, the new citizens are handed a small U.S. flag.
But the pool of prospective new citizens has dried up recently, Vivo said. The last ceremony was in July and the next one isn't until Nov. 15.
Cancellation: A ceremony was scheduled for this week but had to be canceled because there are no candidates.
Vivo said that's because the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which processes citizenship applications, hasn't sent the county a list of names in weeks.
"They've kind of stalled on that and I don't know why," Vivo said. "I don't remember going this long without having a ceremony in a long, long time."
INS officials could not be reached to comment.
Until this year, counties were allowed to schedule naturalization ceremonies at their own convenience, Vivo said. Since January, though, the INS has taken over deciding when they are held. Vivo was not sure why the change was made.
The prospective new citizens who live in Mahoning or Trumbull counties are sent to the Mahoning clerk of court's office for a final round of questioning and the naturalization ceremony, Vivo said.
He said the county naturalization office, located at the South Side Annex on Market Street, regularly gets inquiries from immigrants about how to become a U.S. citizen. But Tisone and Slack said there hasn't been a single inquiry since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and near Washington, D.C.
Normal activity: Officials in Trumbull and Columbiana counties haven't noticed any decline in citizenship interest or increased passport activity, however. Likewise, officials in Lawrence and Mercer counties in Pennsylvania said they have seen no change in citizenship applications.
All of Columbiana County's applications are processed through the INS office in Cleveland, said Shane Patrone of the clerk of courts office. Trumbull County refers its naturalization inquiries to Mahoning County, a spokesman there said. Mercer and Lawrence counties' applications are processed through Pittsburgh.