Becoming a United States citizen is a memorable and meaningful experience—one that brings with it the right to obtain a U.S. passport to travel internationally and to seek protection and assistance from the U.S. government when abroad, the ability to serve on a jury when summoned, the ability to serve the country if and when required, and the right to vote in local, state, and national elections. However, becoming a U.S. citizen is not always an easy process, and it is never as simple as just “getting in line,” though waiting in line is certainly part of the journey.
In the months since the 2016 presidential election, more than 1 million lawful permanent residents have applied for U.S. citizenship, an increase of 10.5 percent from the previous year. The president and executive director of the nonprofit organization, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), told the Huffington Post in an interview this month that, “Because of the anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric during the presidential campaign, individuals [have] felt an urgent need to obtain the benefits and protections of citizenship …. We have seen people who have had green cards for 20-30 years coming out to our citizenship workshops.”
Indeed, across all of its service centers, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been experiencing backlog in processing petitions and applications for immigration benefits. For U.S. citizenship applications, it is reported that the agency has seen a slow-down of more than 35 percent from 2016 to 2017. This means that the average processing times for applications for citizenship, also known as naturalization, have nearly doubled in the last year. This has occurred as USCIS has begun using a new, lengthier application form for naturalization and as more immigrants have begun to react to “the current climate of insults and threats toward immigrants, and increased immigration enforcement by this administration.” For these reasons, at most service centers right now, a person seeking citizenship can expect to wait longer than a year to get to the interview stage and to have the opportunity to take the oath to become a U.S. citizen.