As Backlogs in Citizenship Applications Grow at Troubled Agency, Congress Steps In

WASHINGTON, DC – After a year-long effort to bring attention to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)’ backlog and processing delays of citizenship applications, the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), UnidosUS, CASA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), and Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) were joined by Congressmen Jesús “Chuy” García, Jimmy Gomez and Adriano Espaillat at a press conference Tuesday to applaud Congress’ decision to exercise oversight over the troubled agency. They also pushed to end the policies that have essentially built a “Second Wall” of obstacles to citizenship for the nearly 9 million individuals eligible.

The move Tuesday to begin hearings in the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship of the House Judiciary Committee is an important first step in holding USCIS accountable, ensuring that its work is transparent to the public, the naturalization process is accessible and equitable to all and that the agency’s priorities and resources are not diverted to carrying out the President’s rogue enforcement agenda.

 “Trump is building a second wall of obstruction to keep immigrants from applying to become naturalized citizens. It is no coincidence that the citizenship application backlog remains at record-level highs, no coincidence that the administration is trying to eliminate fee waivers for immigrants applying for citizenship” said Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04),  “and it is no coincidence that the Administration is forcing citizenship applicants to travel hundreds of miles to attend citizenship interviews. Trump’s politics of hate extends to an effort to deter even those eligible to seek naturalized citizenship from fully participating in our democracy and it is as un-American as it gets.”

“It’s clear that the Trump Administration will stop at nothing to make it harder for immigrants to come to the United States legally and has built numerous obstacles to hinder, delay or impede the progress immigrants have made in this country,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) “On a daily basis, we are confronted with Trump’s war on immigrant families, businesses, and opportunities and we will not remain silent.”

 “We are alarmed by the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of LPRs eligible for citizenship, as DHS hyper-prioritizes enforcement,” said Susan Collins, NPNA Director of Policy and Advocacy, during a press conference Tuesday. “By making it harder, longer and costlier to become a U.S. citizen, the Trump Administration is creating an immigration system that favors the rich and privileged like the President’s own family and excludes hardworking immigrants of color and their families.”

According to data available from USCIS, as of March 2019, the number of pending citizenship applications at the agency is more than 713,000 – double the amount compared to 2015. These delays persist, despite the fact that fewer people are applying for citizenship.

 Processing applications used to take a national average of five to six months. Now it is taking an average of more than ten months and in some cases up to 20 and 30 months.

“The delays, 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,” said Laura Vazquez, Senior Program Manager of Immigration Initiatives at UnidosUS.

“The United States — a country built on the promise of freedom and opportunity — has always been a beacon of hope for those in search of refuge,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez (CA-34). “But since assuming office, President Trump has intentionally created a backlog of citizenship applications as a means to eclipse the light that continues to guide struggling and vulnerable families to our borders. Fortunately, our partners on the ground have helped lead the charge to hold the Trump administration accountable and assist those who wish to build a life within our borders. As a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, I will do everything in my power to strengthen the efforts of these organizations and ensure the citizenship process is transparent and accessible for those eligible and longing to call the United States home.”

“The President is working very hard to build walls to make America white again. His efforts have turned becoming a U.S. citizen into a laborious and lengthy process and we are concerned it could dissuade many from applying.  But let us be very clear: we will work twice or three times harder than the Racist-In-Chief to encourage our community to apply and we will fight every attempt by the Administration to build more roadblocks for the millions of US citizens to be” stated Isabel J. Sanchez, CHIRLA National Policy Advocate.

“Under this administration, USCIS has launched an odious attack on citizenship by implementing policies that caused the naturalization backlogs to skyrocket,” said Eric Cohen, Executive Director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. “For a healthy and functioning democracy, we need USCIS to act as the benefit-granting agency it was created to be – not as an agency that erects barriers and serves as an enforcer. Following this hearing, we hope Congress will provide meaningful oversight to ensure that USCIS does its job and puts forward the necessary resources to eliminate the backlogs.”

“These naturalization backlogs are yet another example of an administration gone rogue as it persists in creating unlawful barriers impeding immigrants from exercising their rights,” said CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres“USCIS is an agency largely funded and sustained by the fees paid by the very individuals they now seek to disenfranchise through unnecessary delays in the processing of their naturalization applications. USCIS, DO YOUR JOB!”

 Some USCIS offices with the longest processing times — Texas, Nevada, Georgia, Florida, Minnesota, to name a few – appear to be in states that have been or are likely to be “battlegrounds” in the 2020 election.

For NPNA’s Building a Second Wall Report Update and breakdown of new USCIS data to determine how naturalization backlogs are affecting your state and city, visit: http://partnershipfornewamericans.org/

About National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA)
 The National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) is a national multiethnic, multiracial partnership. We represent the collective power and resources of the country’s 37 largest regional immigrant and refugee rights organizations in 31 states. Our members provide large-scale services—from DACA renewal application processing to voter registration to health care enrollment—for their communities, and they combine service delivery with sophisticated organizing tactics to advance local and state policy. We exist to leverage their collective power and expertise for a national strategy. We believe America’s success is rooted in our ongoing commitment to welcoming and integrating newcomers into the fabric of our nation, and to upholding equality and opportunity as fundamental American values.

Susana Flores (915) 525 2434 susana@communicationsshop.us
Fernanda Durand (443) 396-3317 fernanda@communicationsshop.us
Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli – (Rep. García)  (202) 809-3040  Fabiola.RodriguezCiampoli@mail.house.gov
Eric Harris (Rep. Gomez) Eric.Harris@mail.house.gov