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Citizenship Delayed Is Voting Denied

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The backlog for citizenship is a cynical Republican effort at voter suppression


The systematic slow down of the U.S. Postal Service and the restrictions on voting put in place by Republican governors and state legislators in recent years are the most obvious examples of voter suppression, but the slow down in naturalization for immigrants who want to become citizens and voters may be the boldest form of Republican voter suppression this cycle.

As we have outlined previously, despite the cynical naturalization ceremony displayed at the Republican Convention, the Trump record on naturalization and citizenship is abysmal.   Immigrants who are naturalized citizens were expected to cast 1 in 10 votes this fall, and according to the National Partnership for New Americans, the number of citizens naturalized from 2014 to 2018 is larger than the 2016 presidential margins of victory in Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Nevada and close to the margins of victory in Arizona, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Yet, according to Boundless, as many as 300,000 immigrants will not become citizens by the time voter registration deadlines hit in the coming weeks.

In a story Tuesday with the headline “Citizenship applicants caught in backlog distraught over inability to vote this year…,” the Washington Post takes a look at immigrants who are trying to naturalize but are unlikely to be able to in time to register in key swing states like Wisconsin and Florida.

‘I decided to become a citizen for my voice to count and for the Latinos and all the minorities to be counted, and to be one more in this country,’ said Rutilia Ornelas, 65… 

‘I feel very disappointed because I was so looking forward to becoming a citizen for this election for November. I feel like my voice is not going to count,’ said Ornelas, a Mexican immigrant who lives in Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, FiveThirthyEight.com ran a feature, “New U.S. Citizens Were One Of The Fastest-Growing Voting Blocs. But Not This Year,” detailing the barriers to naturalization and the fact that much of the backlog results from an inability – or a refusal – of officials to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions.  

‘Almost every business, school district, university and government agency across the country has made adjustments to keep their organizations — and the country — moving,’ says Eric Cohen, the executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, an advocacy group. ‘Why should USCIS be any different?’

The question represents an ongoing frustration: Yes, there is an unprecedented public-health crisis, but there is also a human-made immigration crisis stemming from the administration’s policies and USCIS’s decision-making during the pandemic.

According to Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice

Unlike the southern border wall, the barriers the Trump administration has erected to citizenship and voting have been quite effective. The President believes that after four long years of calling immigrants murderers and rapists, demonizing asylum seekers fleeing violence, caging children and separating families, newly naturalized immigrant voters may not be enthusiastic about his candidacy, so the Trump Administration has been preventing their citizenship.  

There was a spike in naturalization applications after Trump became President and a corresponding effort to systematically prevent naturalizations to prevent voting. Now with election day baring down, hundreds of thousands will not be able to vote in what amounts to a cynical and devious effort at voter suppression.

Citizenship is the golden ring at the end of the immigration process that takes years and a small fortune to complete and the American people remain enthusiastic supporters of citizenship for immigrants. Our nation is comprised of families who became Americans over time and is driven by the democratic power of the individual voter. The Republican party clearly wants fewer American citizens to vote and President Trump is doing what he can to make sure fewer people can become citizens and voters in time for November. Citizenship delayed is voting denied.

Key background on policy changes, naturalizations and voting:

  • America’s Voice: “The Trump Administration’s Real Record on Naturalization” 
  • DHS Watch: “How the Trump Administration’s Failed Immigration Strategy Fueled by Xenophobic Ideology Created a Financial Crisis at USCIS”
  • DHS Watch: “Closing the Golden Door and Burning Down the House; How the Trump Administration’s Xenophobic Immigration Policies Are Dismantling Our Immigration System Without A Single Act Of Congress”
  • National Partnership for New Americans: “The Power of Newly Naturalized Citizens in the 2020 Elections” (pdf)
  • Boundless: “Over 300,000 Immigrants Still Won’t Become U.S. Citizens In Time For the 2020 Election; And the government has no plan to catch up”
  • Migration Policy Institute: “Dismantling and Reconstructing the U.S. Immigration System: A Catalog of Changes under the Trump Presidency”