Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Schumer Pushes DHS to Speed Up Naturalizations Before Election

Interesting -- this is the first that I've heard of this:

The Bush administration has authority to rehire retired workers to reduce a backlog of immigration applications that is preventing thousands of people from becoming U.S. citizens in time to vote in November's elections, a Democratic senator said.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., had pressured Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Homeland Security Department, to seek permission to rehire the retirees. The permission was granted Thursday by the Office of Personnel Management...

Citizenship and Immigration Services announced during Thanksgiving week that naturalizations of anyone who applied after June 1 would take 15 to 18 months. Without additional hires, many immigrants could not become citizens, giving them the right to vote, until after the Nov. 4 elections...

The backlog coincided with efforts by immigration groups and others to help legal U.S. residents naturalize and register to vote in time for November's elections. Some of the groups and those awaiting to be citizens have questioned whether the delays are politically motivated, which the agency denies.

According to the article, there's been a flood of new applications for naturalization as those eligible rush to file before fees rise. That said, backlogs are a common feature of the naturalization process. The National Immigration Forum for example, complained in 1998 that the naturalization backlog was requiring applicants to wait a year and a half for naturalization. More recently, a lengthy backlog was apparently eliminated in 2006--just months before the election.

What is the 'normal' wait for naturalizations? And does the current move to rehire retirees represent an effort to return the naturalization process to normal, or to change it? Naturalization can be politically controversial, for obvious reasons, and it doesn't help the process to have a partisan like Schumer as the lead proponent. And it doesn't add much confidence that the only Republican cosponsor of his backlog reduction bill is Chuck Hagel.

I'll stipulate that I can't find any indication that this is a political effort by Democrats to rush naturalizations so they can benefit from voting by new citizens. I can't find any objections from the Bush administration, Republicans in Congress, or party officials. As far as I can determine, the move is noncontroversial among leaders of both parties.

That said, this is clearly a very sensitive issue. It's important that the naturalization process not be changed to ensure that applicants can vote in a given election. Rather, it's essential that the process remain as much as possible the same as it has been, unless there's good reason to change it.

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