New Voters: Thousands of U.S. Immigrants Await Citizenship

The coronavirus pandemic has created a backlog of immigrants waiting to be sworn in as U.S. citizens, with many pushing to do so in time to vote in this fall's elections. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) halted most naturalization ceremonies last spring, dropping naturalizations from about 60,000 per month down to about 2,000 during June.

Some immigrants are now suing the federal government to speed up naturalization ceremonies to make up for the backlog. Ira Mehlman with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) understands their frustration. "Conditions that existed over the past few months because of COVID-19 have made it impossible to do naturalizations at the pace they were before this," he tells KTRH. "People have played by the rules and want to become citizens of the United States---I think that should be applauded, but it needs to be done properly."

Doing it properly means naturalization ceremonies can't happen virtually or remotely. "The naturalization process is to make citizens out of people who have gone through the system and played by the rules," says Mehlman. "And the law does say that there are certain conditions, including doing it in person."

Nevertheless, some activists are pushing for remote naturalization ceremonies. Their motivation might have to do with the fact that foreign-born voters tend to support Democrats by a wide margin. Mehlman suspects there may be politics at play with some of these efforts. "The people who are advocating for (naturalizations) to be done remotely are the same people who are objecting to having immigration hearings and court proceedings done remotely," he says.

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