Citizenship Day is a chance to reflect on what it means to be an American, and this year it means fighting to be acknowledged as one.
On September 17, we joined other civil rights organizations to demand that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) stop intentionally dragging their feet in processing citizenship applications. In the past two years, the number of lawful permanent residents waiting for their applications to be processed has almost doubled. Even worse, the naturalization processing times have increased from an average of six months over the last decade to more than a year in some regions.
The applicants have to prove “good moral character,” sit through an interview with USCIS, prove they can read, write, and speak English, and pass an American history and government test. They hold up their end of the deal, but the agency responsible for processing their applications is falling far short.
Applicants show their commitment to becoming citizens, both in time and in cost. They take courses in English and civics. They study and prepare for the exam. For months, they save up to pay for legal assistance and to pay the $725 application fee. They’re giving everything they’ve got to raise their hand and take the oath of naturalization.
The most obvious benefit of being a U.S. citizen is the right to vote, and preventing eligible applicants from naturalizing is just another nasty form of voter suppression.
— UnidosUS (@WeAreUnidosUS) September 19, 2018
While citizenship confers a benefit to the individual immigrant, there are also social and civic benefits to the nation as a whole. An engaged citizenry creates a more informed, vibrant civic culture and the economic gains to the individual translate to positive effects on the local and national economy. That is why all of us have an interest in a fair process and in encouraging those who are eligible to apply today.
While we fight to improve processing times, eligible permanent residents should still take the steps to apply for naturalization. There are several free resources and online tools available to begin the naturalization application today and community-based organizations offer high-quality, low-cost services providing application assistance. Several UnidosUS Affiliates are hosting citizenship workshops to answer questions and provide application assistance.
We are also working with a number of partners to provide information on citizenship loans for applicants who may not qualify for a fee waiver or the reduced application fee. There are important economic and social benefits of becoming a citizen, including job pay and salaries increasing between 8 and 11 percent after naturalization, gaining the ability to vote, and sponsoring a close family member to immigrate to the United States.
But more than anything else, we think that being a citizen is about fighting for what’s right, so if you’re eligible and able, show your commitment in spite of the backlog and pursue your U.S. citizenship.