Friday, January 25, 2008

Hurry to Wait: The Naturalization Bureaucracy Wall

"Were we caught off guard by the volume? Let's just say it was anticipated it would increase. It was not anticipated it would increase by that much," said Emilio Gonzalez, director of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- (Associated Press - November 2007)

Complete your application forms and have the required fees, photographs and fingerprints in hand and wait your turn. If only the U.S. naturalization process was as simple as it was supposed to be! Now, thousands of applicants - after rushing to apply before a major fee increase was imposed - are now expected to wait for months on end due to the significant backlog in the processing and review of naturalization applications.

Several days ago, the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and Immigration Law held a hearing on the delays and problems in the naturalization application process. According to Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), "This should not have been a surprise. It was totally predictable," the Baltimore Sun reports.

Unfortunately, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) now estimate an 18-month backlog in the processing of the naturalization applications that have already been received. A significant number of current permanent residents filed their naturalization application hoping to vote in the upcoming November election - their first opportunity to exercise their voting rights as newly minted voters. Little did they realize they would be facing yet another barrier in this process.

The public outcry, delays and waiting period has drawn the attention of Congressional leaders who are troubled with this situation.

Action Needed: Recommendations

Addressing the current naturalization backlog requires focus, institutional coordination and cooperation. This is possible if the USCIS is truly committed to resolving this bureaucratic impasse. These steps include:

  • Monitor USCIS to ensure that an expeditious and efficient process is implemented in the review and approval process.
  • The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and Immigration Law should hold quarterly hearings or receive written reports from USCIS officials to ensure that progress has been made, and to address any ongoing gaps that limit the expeditious processing of naturalization applications.
  • The public should contact Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and urge her leadership and encourage the Committee to request monthly reports in which information is provided on the number of applications reviewed and processed, and the number of individuals who have taken the oath of citizenship.