As we look forward to Citizenship Day this Tuesday, September 17, UnidosUS urges all eligible permanent residents to begin the naturalization process. Aspiring Americans infuse new ideas and fresh talent into our economy, strengthen our communities, and contribute to our country. Immigrants who become U.S. citizens earn more by having access to jobs that require U.S. citizenship, can vote in elections, can travel with a U.S. passport, among other benefits.
Unfortunately, this administration is making it more difficult for eligible permanent residents to become naturalized citizens by putting up a “Second Wall” that is delaying naturalization for eligible applicants and disenfranchising them by creating delays that will keep some permanent residents from being able to meet the voter registration requirements to vote in the 2020 election. The backlog of naturalization applications alone has doubled since 2016, to nearly 750,000 pending applications. Over the past two years, from the initial application to the final naturalization ceremony, the wait time has more than doubled, despite only a 4% increase in total applications received by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
UnidosUS has worked with allies to call on Congress to use its oversight authority to get to the bottom of the delays in processing, and we are encouraged that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus led an effort to get the Government Accountability Office to begin an investigation into the backlogs. UnidosUS was also pleased that the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration held a hearing on the backlogs and joined Congress members Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), Adriana Espaillat (NY-13) and Jimmy Gomez (CA-34) and partners in a press conference before the hearing to urge members of Congress to ask why the administration is keeping eligible permanent residents from becoming citizens. Accountability and transparency are needed—why shouldn’t Congress impose processing deadlines on the agency through the appropriations process to get reasonable processing times?
As UnidosUS explained in its statement for the record at the hearing, the delays and backlogs and other barriers to citizenship will disenfranchise those who want to fully participate in our democracy, hinder economic growth, and deny our country the benefits of incorporating long-time residents into the social and cultural fabric of our nation. Naturalization applicants have been permanent residents for at least five years, often have invested time and resources in taking English classes and have been vetted (often multiple times) by USCIS. So, they have earned the right to get a fair shake.
In addition to slowing down the processing of applications, the Trump administration plans to dramatically change the process to apply for a fee waiver that allows low-income applicants to apply for naturalization at no cost. Naturalization is costly, getting more expensive and is becoming an exclusive privilege of the wealthy. There is a pending regulation that once implemented would limit access to the naturalization fee waiver by eliminating the receipt of a means-tested benefit to establish eligibility. This would impact an estimated 40% or more of applicants who without the waiver would not be able to afford citizenship.
UnidosUS will continue to work with our partners to ensure that Congress holds USCIS accountable and prevents the administration from creating additional barriers to naturalization, while at the same time working with our Affiliate Network to encourage eligible permanent residents to take the steps to become U.S. citizens.