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Over 500 people become U.S. citizens in El Paso

Over 500 people became U.S. citizens at the Abraham Chavez theater

Five hundred sixteen people became Unites States citizens Monday at the Abraham Chavez Theater. People like Ruth Retana said this has been a dream of theirs for decades. Retana remembers growing up in Mexico and wanting to become an American citizen.

"I was very emotional. I was almost crying," Retana said.

She told KFOX14 someone important to her was missing today.

"My husband is serving the country in South Korea," she said.

Retana believes her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Carlos Retana, gave her the courage to do something for his country.

"He loves this country," Retana said, tearing up. "I wanted to do something for the country, too. I want to vote in this election. It's very important to do that."

That was the feeling among many people at the ceremony.

"There is a lot of uncertainty of the future of citizenship and immigration. A lot of people are taking the step," Rosa Chavez, a West El Paso resident said. "It's a big responsibility."

Margaret Hartnett is the field office director with the Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services in El Paso. She said she expects many more applicants within the next month.

"During election season, we do see big spikes," Hartnett explained. "We haven't seen it yet because people are just realizing they need to get their application in as soon as possible."

Harnett said people need to apply by the end of April so they can register to vote by the October deadline. The process takes about five months. Within that time, applicants are interviewed, fingerprinted and given the naturalization history test of the United States.

Hartnett said if people are 55 years and older and have lived in the U.S. for at least 15 years, they may qualify to take the test in Spanish.

According to the Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services, approximately 729,000 immigrants were naturalized in 2015. That is a 14 percent increase from 2014.

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