Can USCIS clear their backlog in time for November?
USCIS emerged from their three-month shutdown due to the pandemic with a huge backlog of naturalization cases—extremely troubling during an election year. There are currently an estimated 126,000 naturalization candidates who have completed all requirements except for the oath ceremony.
There are many more would-be citizens—several hundred thousand of them—whose applications were put on hold. They are now part of the expanding backlog; their chances of becoming citizens before the last day of voter registration (in October, for most states) grow increasingly dimmer.
In recent years, USCIS has administered the oath of citizenship to about 63,000 applicants per month. It is not unusual, in some cities, for thousands of applicants to take the oath on a single day.
Now the USCIS is conducting drive-through ceremonies, administering the oath in parking lots (with social distancing) or to groups of fewer than 10 new Americans. It’s not an ideal situation, of course, but is it necessary?
Lawmakers from both parties have urged USCIS to begin conducting the oath remotely or even do away with it altogether to help clear some of the backlog. The agency has been adamant in its refusal, citing security and logistics concerns.
According to Nicole Leon, site attorney for Florida JFON in Orlando, there are other steps USCIS could take to help reduce their backlog.
“In an election year, and with so much at stake this November, one would hope that USCIS follows through on their commitment to prioritize naturalization applications,” she states. “There needs to be a greater effort to streamline cases that do not warrant heightened scrutiny in order to shorten the waiting process.”
Regardless of USCIS’ actions or inactions, this should be a banner year for naturalized citizen voters. Since 2000, the size of the immigrant electorate has nearly doubled; there are now 23.2 million naturalized Americans eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election—that’s one-in-ten of all U.S. eligible voters. Their impact could be crucial, especially as more than half of them (56%) live in the electoral vote-rich states of California, New York, Florida, and Texas.