I have been helping immigrants apply for citizenship for more than two decades. Something I learned over the years is that applications for citizenship go up dramatically during presidential elections and fall just as dramatically the following year. This makes sense because people want to vote for the next president, and they rush to get their naturalization forms in. Then, typically, the number of applications drops precipitously after the election.
This year is exceptional. Instead of a reduction in applications, there has been a 10 percent jump over the already high numbers during the election year. In the last year, 1,028,647 naturalization applications were filed, 100,000 more than in the election year. New York State saw an increase from 119,000 applications in 2016 to 125,000 this year.
There are several reasons cited for the increase in naturalizations, all of them tied to the Donald Trump presidency. According to a new report from the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), “the current climate of insults and threats toward immigrants, and increased immigration enforcement by this administration has resulted in millions of immigrants feeling fear and resentment towards unfair scapegoating. This has resulted in increased naturalization applications as immigrants seek to protect their families and empower themselves to vote.”
The attacks on immigrants have also prompted community groups, who previously did not consider naturalization a part of their agenda, to step forward to offer free help for permanent residents who want to become citizens. After the election of Donald Trump, many cities and states funded citizenship programs to help harden their communities against the harsh new Trump administration policies.
The Trump administration has responded to the growth of naturalization by slowing down the processing of citizenship applications. The number of backlogged cases is now nearly double what it was just two years ago.
According to the NPNA, whose local affiliate is the New York Immigration Coalition, “the massive naturalization processing backlogs are a ‘Second Wall’ that prevents legal immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens and voters. If this is being done intentionally–if the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and this administration is ‘slow-walking’ the citizenship applications of lawfully present immigrants–then this is a particularly offensive form of voter suppression.”
New York has the second largest number of backlogged cases, with more than 93,000.
Keeping permanent residents from becoming citizens is a key element of the White Nationalist agenda. While the media depicts Trump and the White Nationalists who support him as opposed to undocumented immigration, it is really legal immigration that most worries them. Legal residents are the people who become citizens and voters, and in turn, those who the White Nationalists fear will deprive them of power.