HARLINGEN, Texas (AP) _ Clara Escobedo de Martinez, at 98 the nation's oldest illegal alien to obtain amnesty under the new immigration law, picked up her residency card Tuesday and said her next goal is citizenship.

''So I can die here as a citizen,'' said Mrs. Escobedo, who will be eligible for citizenship at 104.

Mrs. Escobedo, a Brownsville resident, first came to the United States from Mexico in 1927 and has lived in this country on and off, legally and illegally, since then.

She accepted the card from the Immigration and Naturalization Service's regional commissioner.

''Clara is a national treasure, something to behold,'' Stephen H. Martin, head of the INS' 13-state Southern region, said at a ceremony.

Mrs. Escobedo was accompanied by her Baptist minister and members of three other generations of her family. The INS gave her a cake inscribed ''Congratulations on a New Beginning'' to mark her legalization and her Sept. 12 birthday.

Mrs. Escobedo said she never remarried after her husband was killed in a Mexican Revolution battle against Pancho Villa's men in 1914. She said she lived and worked in the United States legally from 1927 until 1962, when officials at the border in Brownsville took away her resident alien card as she was returning from a visit to relatives across the Rio Grande.

Mrs. Escobedo came back to live as an illegal alien in 1979.

During her 35 years working at various baby-sitting, vegetable packing and restaurant jobs in Texas and California, and during her most recent stint on this side of the border, Mrs. Escobedo said the only English she learned was: ''What's the matter with you? Yes ma'am and thank you.''

''I have always been happy in the United States,'' she said in her native Spanish.

Martin said he hopes Mrs. Escobedo's story will convince others eligible for amnesty that they have nothing to fear from the INS.

''I desire for you many blessings from the Lord, and that the Lord may bless you in all aspects of your life,'' Mrs. Escobedo told Martin after taking the green card.

Under the 1986 immigration reform law, a one-year amnesty began May 5 for undocumented aliens able to show they have lived in the United States since before Jan. 1, 1982.