More than 2,000 people became U.S. citizens in 2022 in Central Washington as the federal government cut down on wait times for citizenship exams and processed a backlog of applications.

Anita Rios Moore, a public affairs officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the agency has worked hard to reduce its pending caseload and improve application processing times. Local advocates say demand for naturalization services is high in Yakima.

The USCIS has not published data for naturalization applications for the end of 2022, but 2,136 applications were approved by Sept. 30, compared with 2,063 approved by the same date in 2021.

The Yakima USCIS office covers Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat and Yakima counties. Local advocates have noted a rising demand for citizenship legal services in Yakima.

Staff members at La Casa Hogar, a Yakima-based organization that focuses on empowering and educating Latina families, are a few of those local advocates. Eilish Villa Malone, citizenship legal services director at La Casa Hogar, said the nonprofit assisted people with 220 naturalization applications, twice that of 2021.

“It looks like we’ve about doubled our capacity,” Villa Malone said.


Emerging from the pandemic

The return of more in-person services, including citizenship clinics and classes, increased the prospective citizens La Casa Hogar worked with, Villa Malone said. The first clinic of this year will take place on Feb. 4.

La Casa Hogar offers classes on civics and English language for community members looking to take the citizenship exam.

“We siphon a lot of people from the classes.” Villa Malone said. “This quarter we have more than 100 students.”

Citizen education manager Mirella Chavez said those classes have been offered since 2010, but that enrollment increased sharply in 2022. Demand is high, and more staff have been hired to meet that demand. La Casa Hogar now has three full-time and three part-time employees to help qualified community members apply for citizenship.

Other organizations in Yakima County also offer classes and citizenship legal services. Nuestra Casa in Sunnyside offers similar services, and the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic recently announced a partnership with Yakima Valley College for classes in Toppenish.

Villa Malone also noticed the shorter turnaround in application processing this year. In 2021, it could take applicants a year to get their citizenship exam. Recently, the wait time has been as little as four months.


That’s not an accident, Moore said. After pandemic staffing freezes and a backlog of applications, Moore said the USCIS is working to clear pending cases, improve technology and expand staffing.

“To reduce the agency’s pending caseload, USCIS established new internal cycle time goals in March 2022,” Moore said in an email. “As cycle times improve, processing times will follow, and applicants and petitioners will receive decisions on their cases more quickly.”

National efforts appear to be having effects in Yakima. Nationwide, the USCIS welcomed the most naturalized citizens in 15 years and reduced its pending caseload by 62% in its 2022 fiscal year, according to Moore.

In a quarterly report from September, the local USCIS field office recorded fewer than 1,000 pending applications for the first time since the first three months of 2019.

Demand is there, supply is needed

As demand increases, the supply of citizenship legal services can be stretched thin. Prospective citizens can go to private attorneys, but those tend to be more expensive. Nonprofit support, like the work La Casa Hogar does, is not infinite.

“Everyone’s oversaturated,” Villa Malone said.

With unlimited resources, Villa Malone estimates that they could help thousands of people become citizens. Outreach could be particularly critical, said Sofia Acosta, a citizenship community liaison at La Casa Hogar.


Another problem is funding — not just how much money is coming in, but what it’s tagged for.

“A problem with the funding is it’s only focused on the numbers,” Villa Malone said. “It would be nice to have something, some legislative funding, for holistic services.”

Villa Malone said La Casa Hogar receives a small amount funding for every application it helps turn in, but that doesn’t account for helping applicants through citizenship exams or interactions with the USCIS.

Villa Malone also noted that more volunteers, particularly those who speak Spanish and English, would be helpful at clinics and in civics classes. Villa Malone said volunteers could help translate or fill out forms.

“We have a lot of demand,” Chavez said. “Each month, we need more volunteers.”

Those interested in volunteering can contact Chavez at or Villa Malone at