Long Delays Preventing Some Immigrants from Becoming Citizens in Time to Vote

Recent CARECEN Citizenship Day event.

There has been a surge in Lawful Permanent Residents applying for citizenship over the last twelve months in the lead up to the November election. The Department of Homeland Security reports that the number of applications is up 23% over the previous year, according to the New York Times. Long Island organizations working with immigrants like CARECEN and Make the Road report a similar surge. Unfortunately, as Naturalization Applications from people applying for citizenship arrived at Homeland Security, the system for processing them was unable to keep up.

Although community groups had warned since last summer that this election was viewed with particular concern by immigrants and that they expected a large increase in applications, inadequate steps were taken by Homeland Security to make sure that backlogs did not develop.

Since immigrants applying for Naturalization pay $595 to apply for citizenship, the increase in applications brought with it a concomitant rise is money available to hire more Naturalization Officers and increase overtime, but the Department of Homeland Security lagged in its preparations. The time between when someone applied for Naturalization and when they became a citizen grew in many places for four months to seven.

According to the New York Times:

In the last year almost 940,000 legal immigrants applied to become citizens, a 23 percent surge over the previous year. As of June 30, more than 520,000 applications were waiting to be examined, a pileup that increased steadily since last year.

Immigration officials “anticipated that there would be a spike in applications this year, but the increase has exceeded expectations,” said Jeffrey T. Carter, a spokesman for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency in charge of naturalizations.

The official figures revealing the backlog, published in late September, came as a shock to immigrant groups that put on a nationwide push early this year to help eligible immigrants to naturalize. Some of the biggest increases in applications came in battleground states where they had focused their efforts, including a 30 percent increase over a year earlier in Colorado, a 40 percent increase in Florida and a 53 percent increase in Nevada.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.