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United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Department of Homeland Security agency that processes naturalization requests, didn’t fully anticipate a 32 percent jump in citizenship applications over the last year and, as such, hundreds of thousands of longtime legal American residents who want to vote in a singularly important election may be denied that opportunity due to a government backlog. “I’ve been checking my mail every day, but I haven’t heard anything,” Francisca Fiero, a 73-year-old Mexican immigrant living in Las Vegas told the New York Times. “I’m starting to get very worried.” Fiero has had a green card for a decade.
Some 524,014 citizenship applications, boosted by naturalization drives in battleground states like Colorado, Nevada, and Florida, are being held up by the backlog, which was entirely predictable and avoidable, according to a report published Friday by the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), a coalition of immigration advocacy organizations. Research shows that naturalization rates are responsive to both politics and the financial cost of the process, and with USCIS fees rising 21 percent soon, the government should have anticipated the increase and adjusted its efforts accordingly, according to the NPNA. “The agency has developed an acute case of the slows, and it could not be a more critical moment,” NPNA executive director Tara Raghuveer told the Times.
The report identified 15 “disenfranchisement danger zone” states that account for 441,000 of the backlog, or 84 percent. Many states with the worst backlog increases over last year, including Nevada, Florida, and Pennsylvania, are tightly contested between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.