Thousands Might Not Become U.S. Citizens in Time to Vote in the Presidential Election

Photo credit via vox.com, Belatina, Latinx
Photo credit via vox.com

After decades of waiting to become citizens of the United States of America, permanent residents fear they won’t be able to naturalize before the 2020 presidential election. 

According to a Boundless Immigration report, with data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and over 100 field offices, since March 18, 2020, more than 441,000 green card holders haven’t been able to assist to their naturalization interviews and ceremonies due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Identifying “trends in application backlogs, denials, and processing times,” the analysis revealed that there’s a current accumulation of roughly 700,000 lawful permanent residents who applied for U.S. citizenship right before the CDC and the government asked the population to participate in self-quarantine and social distancing. 

“Immigrants have often waited a decade or longer to legally achieve their dreams of becoming U.S. citizens, and it’s heartbreaking to see hundreds of Americans-to-be stuck right in front of the finish line,” said Xiao Wang, co-founder, and CEO, Boundless. “Every study has shown that naturalization increases income, taxes paid, and contributions to the community. And with this being an election year, these delays will hurt overall engagement and turnout, core pillars of democracy.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the procedure, long before the USCIS shut down, the processing time to become a citizen, legal resident or even to be approved to work in the United States legally, was higher after Donald Trump signed the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act in August 2017.

The executive order asked USCIS to reduce the levels of legal immigration to the United States by 50%, alleging the U.S system does not “prioritize” the most “highly skilled immigrants.”

Trump’s anti-immigration law quadrupled the citizenship application waiting time and doubled the denial rate. 

As The State of New American Citizenship report revealed, Seattle ranks as the worst city to become an American citizen with a waiting time of nearly 16 months. California features as one of the worst states to naturalize. 

Out of 10, five cities in California have an average waiting time of over 13 months. For green cardholders looking to become citizens in Cleveland, the average wait time for naturalization is 3.7 months, making this the best city for new immigrant applicants. 

“Where someone chooses to live should not have over a year’s difference in when they can become a U.S. citizen,” Wang said. “I hope that USCIS will adopt policies to distribute caseload and resources better across field offices, so that wait times are more consistent across the country.”

On top of the backlogs and waiting times, the USCIS is changing, but not for the immigrants’ benefit. According to the report, the agency plans to eliminate “one of the most common eligibility factors for naturalization fee waivers, which could significantly reduce applications by lower-income immigrants.” They also proposed to change the naturalization application form, adding more expansive questions and requirements, and including a history of 10 years of detailed travel records.

When it comes to fees, the USCIS increased by nearly 60% in total naturalization fees. The reason can be to reduce the number of citizenship applications.

Boundless Immigration revealed other important factors that might be contributing to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services backlog, including the many other duties USCIS field officers have. 

Beginning in 2017, the agency started requiring “an in-person interview” for anyone applying for an employment-based green card (about 122,000 people each year) or family members of refugees and asylees applying for a green card from within the United States (about 46,000 people each year). In 2018, they also expanded the green card interview requirement for married couples.