The cost of illegal immigration in the Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. -- "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America," said Patricia Mendoza, slowly but with confidence. The Pledge often begins in grade school, now in her 20's, Patricia Mendoza can finally recite it.

"I feel different," she said. Different, because for the first time in her life, Patricia can say, 'I'm an American.' "I'm really excited to be a citizen."

Patricia's story is few and far between in the state of Washington. She's was one of 20 who became a citizen on Thursday in Richland. The government estimates 17,000 will become citizens in Washington State this year. It might sound like a lot, but KEPR learned there are likely 275,000 people living in the shadows, right now; people who came here illegally.

"It's thought-provoking because there are so many people who have taken the steps to be naturalized citizens and the process is one that we welcome," said Honorable Edward F. Shea, Senior District Judge. "We want that, but we want it to be done legally."

When it isn't done legally, you end up paying the bill. More than $1.5 billion in Washington taxpayer money goes to education for illegal immigrants, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform -- known as 'FAIR.' The group cites another $650 million is spent on healthcare and social services every year too. It all adds up.

But not everyone is eligible to become a citizen and naturalization is a lengthy process. People need to meet a number of qualifications in the first place, those who don't, or don't bother, end up living in the shadows.

Mendoza is now here legally. As a tax payer, she understands she'll be footing the bill for illegal immigrants as well.

"I accept everything," she said, knowing she'll gain acceptance by her contribution and hoping others will follow.

"It's good for me, my family, and the nation."