Over 300,000 Immigrants Still Won’t Become U.S. Citizens In Time For the 2020 Election


And the government has no plan to catch up

Jul 16, 2020


A person placing their vote in the ballot box

We have good news and we have bad news.

The good news is, over 110,000 people are apparently on track to complete the Oath of Allegiance and become U.S. citizens by the end of July. They had all successfully completed every part of the naturalization process — except for the final 140-word oath ceremony — when the COVID-19 pandemic forced U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to close its field offices in late March.

The bad news is, over 300,000 people who would normally be eligible to vote this November are still likely to be disenfranchised by the current freeze on naturalization interviews — the step that comes right before the oath ceremony.

Citizenship Oath Ceremonies Resume

USCIS field office shuts down due to coronavirus.

USCIS began reopening its field offices in June, with new social-distancing measures in place, and could hardly be expected to hold the mass gatherings that have traditionally naturalized hundreds or even thousands of new Americans in the same moment.

Thanks to the tireless and creative work of USCIS civil servants across the country, however, citizenship ceremonies began to resume in new ways — like drive-thru naturalization oaths. A USCIS spokesperson recently told the Los Angeles Times that the agency “will clear the citizenship backlog from COVID-19 by the end of July.”

The political leadership of USCIS could have made this happen faster — for instance, they claimed that it would be legally impossible to administer virtual oath ceremonies, which is not true.

Still, let’s pause to celebrate the good news for more than 110,000 people who, as of late March, had nothing but a 10-minute ceremony standing between them and their long-awaited status as proud U.S. citizens.

Now it’s the 300,000 people next in line who have cause to worry.

Citizenship Interviews Still On Hold

An immigrant at their U.S. citizenship interview

Under normal circumstances, as Boundless originally projected, USCIS completes about 63,000 successful naturalization interviews and 63,000 oath ceremonies each month. There is typically a time lag of about two months between these two events — so, for example, the 63,000 people who would have normally passed their interview in April would have become the 63,000 people taking the oath and becoming citizens in June.

But there were no interviews in April, or in May — all USCIS field offices were closed — and it appears that few if any interviews have occurred even since these offices reopened in June. (Boundless customers were regularly receiving naturalization interview notices from USCIS right up until late March, but to our knowledge none have been rescheduled so far.)

In a normal year, everyone passing their naturalization interview during the five months between April and August would have reasonably expected to take the oath and become a U.S. citizen within the next two months, in time for most states’ voter registration deadlines in October.

That’s 315,000 people still at risk of being disenfranchised by administrative delay.

Here are the states where they are most likely to live, based on prior naturalization data from DHS:

Cumulative Number of Citizenship Applicants Who Will Not Be Able Vote in the Nov. 2020 Election, for Each Month USCIS Fails to Resume Interviews

State% of totalAprilMayJuneJulyAugust
All U.S.

100.00%

63,000

126,000

189,000

252,000

315,000

Alabama

0.33%

206

412

618

824

1,030

Alaska

0.18%

115

230

345

460

576

Arizona

1.60%

1,008

2,015

3,023

4,031

5,038

Arkansas

0.27%

173

346

518

691

864

California

21.60%

13,611

27,222

40,832

54,443

68,054

Colorado

1.06%

666

1,331

1,997

2,662

3,328

Connecticut

1.35%

847

1,695

2,542

3,390

4,237

Delaware

0.20%

129

258

387

516

645

District of Columbia

0.21%

134

268

402

536

670

Florida

12.72%

8,011

16,023

24,034

32,046

40,057

Georgia

2.20%

1,385

2,770

4,154

5,539

6,924

Guam

0.11%

71

142

213

283

354

Hawaii

0.35%

223

445

668

890

1,113

Idaho

0.28%

176

351

527

702

878

Illinois

3.51%

2,210

4,420

6,630

8,840

11,050

Indiana

0.87%

549

1,098

1,647

2,196

2,745

Iowa

0.48%

301

603

904

1,205

1,507

Kansas

0.52%

329

657

986

1,314

1,643

Kentucky

0.57%

361

723

1,084

1,446

1,807

Louisiana

0.40%

249

498

748

997

1,246

Maine

0.15%

94

188

281

375

469

Maryland

1.65%

1,038

2,076

3,114

4,152

5,189

Massachusetts

3.29%

2,072

4,145

6,217

8,289

10,361

Michigan

1.90%

1,197

2,394

3,590

4,787

5,984

Minnesota

1.11%

697

1,394

2,090

2,787

3,484

Mississippi

0.15%

94

188

282

376

470

Missouri

0.70%

440

880

1,321

1,761

2,201

Montana

0.05%

33

67

100

134

167

Nebraska

0.42%

264

529

793

1,058

1,322

Nevada

0.98%

615

1,230

1,845

2,460

3,076

New Hampshire

0.24%

152

303

455

606

758

New Jersey

5.31%

3,346

6,693

10,039

13,385

16,731

New Mexico

0.47%

299

598

896

1,195

1,494

New York

10.79%

6,795

13,590

20,385

27,180

33,975

North Carolina

1.80%

1,137

2,274

3,411

4,548

5,685

North Dakota

0.07%

43

86

129

172

215

Ohio

1.86%

1,169

2,338

3,506

4,675

5,844

Oklahoma

0.54%

338

676

1,014

1,353

1,691

Oregon

1.03%

647

1,295

1,942

2,590

3,237

Pennsylvania

2.52%

1,587

3,173

4,760

6,346

7,933

Puerto Rico

0.24%

150

299

449

598

748

Rhode Island

0.40%

254

509

763

1,017

1,271

South Carolina

0.52%

325

651

976

1,301

1,626

South Dakota

0.08%

52

104

157

209

261

Tennessee

0.73%

461

921

1,382

1,842

2,303

Texas

8.57%

5,399

10,799

16,198

21,597

26,997

Utah

0.45%

284

569

853

1,138

1,422

Vermont

0.09%

58

116

174

231

289

Virginia

2.40%

1,512

3,025

4,537

6,049

7,562

Washington

1.95%

1,231

2,462

3,692

4,923

6,154

West Virginia

0.08%

48

96

143

191

239

Wisconsin

0.62%

394

787

1,181

1,574

1,968

Wyoming

0.03%

21

43

64

85

107

Sources:
DHS 2018 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics
Boundless analysis

What Happens Next?

An immigrant casts his vote in the the U.S. presidential election.

The sobering reality is that with July almost over, USCIS is already making it impossible for some 252,000 aspiring U.S. citizens to vote in the general election. By the end of August, the full population of 315,000 citizenship applicants — some of whom have been in line for nearly two years — will be disenfranchised.

This is happening during an election year when immigrants have expressed extraordinary interest in becoming U.S. citizens. As Boundless documented in our 2020 State Of New American Citizenship Report, from October through December 2019, 30% more people applied for U.S. citizenship than during the same period in advance of the 2016 election.

“This means that before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the immigration system, and controlling for past anomalies driven by Congress, demand for U.S. citizenship this fiscal year was at its highest level in modern history,” said Doug Rand, immigration policy expert and Boundless co-founder.

This trend didn’t hold between January through March 2020, as the pandemic first began to affect a large number of people across the United States — naturalization volume was down 5% compared with the same period in 2016.

That’s not the fault of USCIS or the Trump administration.

But this administration does bear responsibility for its apparent failure to resume naturalization interviews for the 315,000 people who need them in order to vote this year — and for the very real chance that USCIS could furlough most of its workforce in August due to years of misguided policy choices, making the resumption of interviews all but impossible.


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