WASHINGTON – A year after President Biden issued an executive order re-establishing the Task Force on New Americans and reviewing barriers to naturalization, the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) calls on the administration to prioritize proactive measures to expand and promote access to citizenship and other immigrant inclusion measures. Although there has been some progress in implementing the executive order, barriers to naturalization and other forms of migration continue to exist. NPNA, a multi-ethnic coalition of the nation’s largest state-level immigrant advocacy organizations, urges the administration to prioritize naturalization and immigrant inclusion and remove unnecessary immigration hurdles.
“The Biden administration took critical steps towards rebuilding leadership on federal immigrant inclusion by re-establishing the Task Force on New Americans, reducing the backlog of citizenship applications, and increasing the number of immigrants that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) naturalizes,” said Nicole Melaku, executive director of NPNA. “Still, we are disappointed by the lack of activity and coordination by the Task Force on New Americans and the continuous barriers to naturalization that our communities face, including language, the high cost of naturalization, and a lack of federal investment in legal services. One year after President Biden’s executive order, we strongly urge the administration to activate the Task Force on New Americans and show bold and vocal leadership for expanding access to citizenship.”
Although the executive order re-established the Task Force on New Americans, NPNA and other advocates are frustrated by the lack of activity of the Task Force. The executive order directed a review of different barriers to naturalization, including the application itself, background checks, civics and English tests, and fees policies, and created an inter-agency governmental working group to promote naturalization. The order came amidst several changes, including reversing the previous administration’s fee hikes, restoring the 2008 civics test, and changing the policy on erroneous and unnecessary Requests for Evidence that delay the adjudication process by USCIS. In its first year, the administration increased naturalizations and reduced the citizenship backlog by nearly 18%. Still, according to USCIS’s latest data, there are over 830,000 applications in the backlog, and the national median processing time has increased to 11.8 months. Moreover, barriers to naturalization continue to persist, including language, high application fees, and a lack of immigration legal services. Advocates are further concerned that a proposed rule on application fees and fee waivers can come as early as March 2022, making naturalization out of reach for many due to potential fee increases.
For its part, NPNA launched the “Naturalize 2 Million by 2022 / New Americans Voters” campaign to activate its coalition members, partners, cities, and counties and encourage eligible immigrants to naturalize and, if possible, vote in the 2022 midterm elections. The campaign already made an impact, as USCIS data shows that it naturalized 855,000 new citizens in 2021. This means that the campaign reached 42% progress towards the goal of naturalizing two million new citizens by the end of 2022. The campaign also calls to reduce fees and other barriers to naturalization, implement automatic voter registration at USCIS, and increase USCIS grants for immigration legal service providers and other proactive measures to promote citizenship.