Thirteen immigrants from 12 different countries become new U.S. citizens in a special naturalization ceremony on Flag Day at the historic Betsy Ross House. – Philadelphia, PA / USA – June 14, 2019 (Shutterstock)
By Andy J. Semotiuk, Forbes
“As of the second week of October, tens of thousands of U.S. residents have already been prevented from becoming U.S. citizens in time to meet their states’ respective voter registration deadlines. As a result, most of these would-be voters will be barred from participating in November’s upcoming elections. Unless immediate action is taken, as many as 300,000 would-be citizens will be prevented from voting in November due to newly instituted policies that deviate from two decades of regulatory precedent regarding the naturalization of U.S. citizens during presidential election years.” So begins a new special report entitled Denying the Right to Vote: Politicization of the Naturalization Process as a Novel Form of Voter Suppression just published by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and Boundless Immigration.
The Immigrant Legal Resource Center is a national nonprofit that works with immigrants, community organizations, legal professionals, and policymakers to build a democratic society that values diversity and the rights of all people. Boundless Immigration is a company dedicated to empowering families to navigate the U.S. immigration system more confidently, rapidly, and affordably. The report they released contains new data underlines that would-be citizens are highly motivated to vote — particularly in several closely watched states for the upcoming Presidential election. It also details specific policies that the U.S.Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can implement immediately to ensure that tens of thousands of naturalization applicants are able to become citizens in time to vote.
“USCIS has taken unprecedented steps to politicize the naturalization process in an important election year, and tens of thousands of would-be citizens have already been denied the right to vote as a result,” said Melissa Rodgers, Director of Programs at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. She added,“Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia allow same day voter registration. To ensure the integrity of our upcoming elections, the current administration must commit to immediate steps like the processing of same day oaths and the administration of remote oath ceremonies that would help lead to the expeditious and efficient adjudication of hundreds of thousands of naturalization applicants.”
The report draws on new survey data collected from among 200 partners across the United States. The survey documents aspiring new Americans’ primary motivations for becoming U.S. citizens. This survey data shows that obtaining voting rights is the primary motivating factor for becoming U.S. citizens for a large plurality of naturalization applicants across the nation. The survey data also shows that would-be citizens are particularly motivated to vote in key states that could be decisive in this year’s Presidential election. Voter registration deadlines have already passed for many states including Florida and Texas, where large numbers of would-be citizens are still waiting on USCIS to complete their pending naturalization applications.
Naturalization Has Always Been A Priority
“Past administrations, both Republicans and Democrats, have rightly prioritized naturalization as core to immigrants’ integration into the economic and civic fabric of America,” said Doug Rand, co-founder, Boundless Immigration. “Nobody in this country should be disenfranchised through bureaucratic delay.” He added, “Preventing nearly 300,000 new Americans from voting is not trivial. Newly naturalized citizens are one of the fastest-growing voting blocs in the United States — at least, they were until now.”
To rectify this situation and minimize harm to the integrity of the United States’ upcoming elections, the initiators of the report are calling on USCIS to commit to the expeditious processing of naturalization adjudications combined with the common sense use of technology to facilitate remote naturalization oaths. This would allow the agency to complete thousands of naturalization adjudications in time for many new U.S. citizens to vote.
A Dangerous Precedent
If USCIS refuses to commit to these steps, it will set a dangerous precedent by treating aspiring citizens as political adversaries. This hostile perspective paves the way for future administrations to adopt similar policies and practices, which in turn risks what has traditionally been broad, bipartisan support for naturalization, and the integration of new Americans into the U.S. democratic process.
Each day that passes without immediate action from USCIS potentially results in the barring of tens of thousands of additional would-be voters from participating in this election,” Eric Cohen, Executive Director, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that these policies were designed to suppress the vote of many New Americans, many of whom are Latino.” Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Deputy Vice President, Policy and Advocacy, UnidosUS, said.
“It is unconscionable that many of these aspiring New Americans likely will be blocked from casting their first votes as U.S. citizens in 2020. The government should not break their faith in democracy in this way,” Marita Etcubanez, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, added. In the absence of naturalization, all that is left for such immigrants is to work to get eligible voters out to the polls. This is what some young people are doing.