Trump Admin Paused Naturalizations Due To COVID, Sidelining Potential New Voters

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More than 400,000 potential voters will be ineligible in November if citizenship processing remains essentially frozen.

According to The Washington Post, hundreds of thousands of potential voters will be ineligible to vote in the November election “unless the Trump administration resumes citizenship ceremonies.”

  • Rights groups and lawmakers from both political parties agreed that the administration needs to clear “a pandemic-related backlog of immigrants waiting to take the naturalization oath,” reported The Post.

“President Trump, who claims falsely that millions of immigrants vote illegally in U.S. elections, now has the ability to effectively deny a large number of foreign-born Americans from becoming legally eligible to register ahead of the next presidential election,” the report continued.

  • The in-person ceremonies, administered by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), are the final step that immigrants must complete before being able to register to vote as naturalized US citizens.
  • USCIS, which administers the oath of citizenship to more than 60,000 applicants per month, closed its offices in mid-March amid the coronavirus pandemic and canceled the majority of the naturalization ceremonies.
  • The Post reported that “the agency has not committed to resuming a full slate of ceremonies nor has publicly released a plan for rescheduling the approximately 150,000 naturalizations that have been postponed because of the closures.”

“Naturalizing new United States citizens is a critical benefit we administer at USCIS and we’re working hard to resume that process,” Joseph Edlow, USCIS deputy director for policy, said in a statement. “However, we will not ignore federal law, which has clear in-person requirements for naturalization, in the name of convenience or expediency.”

  • In addition to challenges that the coronavirus outbreak has presented, the “fee-funded agency is running out of money...Last week, the agency laid off 1,000 contractors,” The Post wrote. The agency has asked lawmakers for $1.2 billion in emergency funding.
  • According to The Post, Edlow told USCIS employees “in an email Tuesday that staff furloughs will begin in July absent a cash infusion from Congress.”

Trump administration critics have said that there “has been no detectable urgency to get citizenship processing back on track in time for state voter registration deadlines this fall,” The Post wrote.

  • According to the report, Sen. Marco Rubio (R- FL) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D- NM) sent a letter to USCIS acting director Ken Cuccinelli last week, “asking him to ‘take all necessary measures’ to safely resume naturalization ceremonies...in accordance with preventive measures recommended” by the CDC and local public health authorities.

“To be fair, there are logistical challenges, but that is not [the] same as an insurmountable obstacle,” said Doug Rand, a former immigration policy adviser to the Obama administration. “The entire country is conducting its business virtually now, at a scale that is unprecedented...For them to say it can’t be done doesn’t pass the laugh test.”

  • Matthew La Corte, a policy analyst at the Niskanen Center in Washington DC, said smaller ceremonies, “While they are really great for those newly naturalized citizens who can participate in them, we’re talking about a drop in the bucket.” They will lead “to a ballooning backlog” with more potential voters unable to complete the citizenship process in time for voter registration deadlines this fall, he continued.

The coronavirus outbreak has left USCIS with no money to set up alternative systems on the fly, according to officials. La Corte said he remains skeptical, stating that “the logistical concerns about collecting green cards” and conducting brief interviews before naturalization “can be figured out.”

Read the full report here.

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