Would-be Voters Want Citizenship Expedited

On Oct. 5, several immigrants joined a City Hall demonstration at which Public Advocate Letitia James demanded emergency funding from the federal government to expedite the naturalization of more than half a million people at risk of not being able to vote. (Photo via El Diario)

On Oct. 5, several immigrants joined a City Hall demonstration at which Public Advocate Letitia James demanded emergency funding from the federal government to expedite the naturalization of more than half a million people at risk of not being able to vote. (Photo via El Diario)

[Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include excerpts from a Korea Daily story.]

On Nov. 8, U.S. citizens will elect the country’s new president in an election promising to be a close race. Colombia native José González was dreaming of voting for the first time, but he is worried that his wish will not come true. Although he passed his citizenship exam a few days ago, barring a miracle he will have to wait several weeks for his naturalization ceremony. By that time, however, the deadline to register to vote will have passed.

To ensure that half a million potential citizens throughout the U.S. currently in limbo, such as González, will be able to naturalize in the coming weeks and exercise their right to vote, Public Advocate Letitia James made an urgent call to the federal government to provide emergency resources to the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to expedite the process.

The government official said that, in the Big Apple, 60,000 people are at risk of not being able to vote.

“We can’t allow bureaucratic red tape to stifle the dreams of half a million potential citizens,” said James. “Hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants are being denied the opportunity to become citizens simply because USCIS does not have enough resources.”

The public advocate added that, in a historic election such as the one facing the U.S. at this moment, these delays are stalling new voters, and she urged the government to invest resources in favor of those who are at risk of losing their right to cast their ballot.

According to USCIS figures, 940,000 people applied for citizenship last year, 23 percent more than during the previous one. Reports released in June of the current year showed that more than 520,000 applications were still pending review.

“With the deadline to register for Election Day 2016 just around the corner, it is imperative that the federal government provide emergency funds to USCIS to process the maximum amount of applications before the October registration deadlines,” stated a press release from the public advocate’s office.

Mayra Aldas-Deckert, community engagement coordinator at the New York Immigration Coalition, said that obtaining the right to vote is one of the main goals of new citizens, as well as a way to give a voice to those who do not have one during the upcoming electoral process.

“I became a citizen last year. I’ve never felt more empowered than the day I took the oath of citizenship,” she said. “My first thought was: ‘I can vote. I can vote for my parents and my sister who cannot vote, I can vote for my family, I can vote for my community.’ Sadly, that will not be the feeling for thousands of immigrants that are still waiting.”

José Pérez, from the LatinoJustice organization, said that, if the USCIS does not receive resources, it will not be able to process all the pending applications.

“Federal law requires USCIS to adjudicate naturalization applications within a reasonable time, typically within six months. The administration needs to immediately appropriate funds to USCIS enabling them to comply with the law!” he said.

María Morales, one of the immigrants who participated in the demonstration held at City Hall to demand funds from the federal government, said that, if no action is taken immediately, the citizens who will be unable to vote will have been relegated to a second class.

“This right should be for everybody, especially in this election, in which we immigrants have the duty to raise our voices more strongly against the ill treatment that particularly one of the candidates has inflicted on us,” she said.

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Representatives from the Asian American community were also present at the City Hall rally. In a story in Korea Daily, written and translated by Joeun Lee, they made some observations. Below is an excerpt from her story: 

Leaders of Asian American immigrant advocacy groups in particular are concerned about the backlog, because Asian immigrants are believed to have the highest rate of naturalization, according to the Asian American Federation, or AAF, and Minkwon Center for Community Action. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the most likely of all race groups to be naturalized voters, according Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of AAF, and James Hong, interim executive director of Minkwon Center.

“This is particularly salient for Asian Americans, so we are working hard in this election cycle as we do in every election cycle to turn out the votes. Now in 2016, it is more important than ever that the immigrant community participates, plays a role, and has a voice in our nation’s political future,” said Hong. “This is an election of global importance and to have a bureaucratic backlog affecting our democratic process is a tragedy of historic proportions.”

 

 

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