Backlog means many new citizens won’t get there in time to vote

New York Times Story

Immigrants Eager to Vote Obeyed All the Rules. It Didn’t Pay.


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Highlights below:

They stayed up late studying for civics tests. They went to classes, paid hefty fees and underwent background checks. During the last year, nearly a million legal immigrants applied to become American citizens, many of them hoping to take the oath of citizenship in time to cast their first ballots on Nov. 8 in a presidential race where immigration has been fiercely debated.

But as the number of aspiring citizens grew this year, the backlog at the federal agency that approves naturalizations swelled. With the agency now reporting that it takes up to seven months to complete the process, Obama administration officials are reluctantly admitting that many — perhaps most — of the immigrants in the backlog will not become citizens in time to vote.

In the last year almost 940,000 legal immigrants applied to become citizens, a 23 percent surge over the previous year. As of June 30, more than 520,000 applications were waiting to be examined, a pileup that increased steadily since last year.

Immigration officials “anticipated that there would be a spike in applications this year, but the increase has exceeded expectations,” said Jeffrey T. Carter, a spokesman for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency in charge of naturalizations.

The official figures revealing the backlog, published in late September, came as a shock to immigrant groups that put on a nationwide push early this year to help eligible immigrants to naturalize. Some of the biggest increases in applications came in battleground states where they had focused their efforts, including a 30 percent increase over a year earlier in Colorado, a 40 percent increase in Florida and a 53 percent increase in Nevada.

“The agency has developed an acute case of the slows, and it could not be a more critical moment,” said Tara Raghuveer, deputy director of theNational Partnership for New Americans, a coalition of 37 groups that held citizenship workshops around the country. The groups scrambled to file applications before May 1, she said, after the immigration agency originally advised them that the process would take four to six months.

“It really is outrageous that people can do everything right and still be denied an important right as a citizen,” Yvanna Cancela, a union official, said.