Citizens In Waiting…For How Long?

By Guest Columnist Feb 26, 2008

by Deepa Iyer Around the country, citizens are going to the polls to register their votes in primaries and caucuses. But for a significant segment of the population who are “citizens in waiting” – legal permanent residents who have applied to become naturalized citizens – exercising the vote in the 2008 elections might not be a reality. “Citizens in waiting” are finding more challenges and obstacles on the path to citizenship, from bureaucratic government delays to rising fees. Here are a few of the obstacles that we at South Asian Americans Leading Together have documented in the South Asian community: Backlog: The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which deals with immigration-related applications, is woefully behind in processing them. At the end of 2003, USCIS estimated about 3.4 million cases in the backlog. USCIS has its work cut out for it: apparently, over 7 million immigration applications were filed with USCIS in the 2007 fiscal year, which is 1.4 million than in 2006. Name Checks: Since 9/11, various initiatives have negatively affected immigrants living in the United States. In particular, many immigrants, especially those from South Asia or the Middle East, who have applied for immigration benefits have faced severe processing delays due to security background checks conducted by the government. In some cases, individuals have waited years for their work authorization, green card, and naturalization applications to be approved. The FBI name check process is the cause of the biggest delay in these applications. As of May 2007, USCIS reported over 300,000 FBI name checks pending with over 30,000 of them pending for over 3 years. Just this month, some progress: USCIS has announced a new policy by which an applicant for immigration benefits, who has waited over 180 days for the FBI name check to clear, may have his or her application approved (pending further inquiry). Unfortunately, the policy does not apply to naturalization applications. The Cost of Citizenship: Applicants have to shell out even more money now to apply for naturalization. Starting in July 2007, the application costs increased from $330 to $595. Passing the Test: And even if you get this far, you might not be able to pass the new citizenship exam that goes into effect later this year. Here are some of the questions that applicants may have to answer: otWhat did the Declaration of Independence do? otWhat is the economic system in the US? otThe Federalist Papers supported the passage of the US Constitution. Name one of the writers. Clearly, the road to citizenship is becoming even more challenging for many in the United States. Even though naturalized immigrants represent a potential new pool of voters, it is likely that many will not have a say in the November elections this year. PS. The answer to the Federalist Papers question – Alexander Hamilton; John Jay; or James Madison