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Special Report: USCIS Could Prevent Hundreds of Thousands of Would-Be Citizens from Voting in November’s Elections

October 16, 2020 (2 min read)

ILRC, Boundless Immigration, Oct. 15, 2020

"The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) and Boundless Immigration announced today the release of a new special report entitled “Denying the Right to Vote: Politicization of the Naturalization Process as a Novel Form of Voter Suppression,” which details how United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) willful mismanagement of the naturalization process in 2020 has already prevented tens of thousands of would be voters from participating in November’s upcoming elections. The report releases new proprietary data demonstrating that would-be citizens are highly motivated to vote -- particularly in several closely watched states for the upcoming Presidential election. It also details specific policies that USCIS can implement immediately to ensure that tens of thousands of naturalization applicants are able to become citizens in time to vote. 

“USCIS has taken unprecedented steps to politicize the naturalization process in an important election year, and tens of thousands of would-be citizens have already been denied the right to vote as a result,” said Melissa Rodgers, Director of Programs at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. “Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia allow same day voter registration. To ensure the integrity of our upcoming elections, the current administration must commit to immediate steps like the processing of same day oaths and the administration of remote oath ceremonies that would help lead to the expeditious and efficient adjudication of hundreds of thousands of naturalization applicants. Absent these steps, as many as 300,000 people will be unable to register to vote in time to participate in November’s elections.” 

The report draws on new proprietary survey data collected from among 200 partners of the ILRC-led New Americans Campaign (NAC) across the United States. The survey documents aspiring new Americans’ primary motivations for becoming U.S. citizens. This survey data shows that obtaining voting rights is the primary motivating factor for becoming U.S. citizens for a large plurality of naturalization applicants across the nation. The survey data also shows that would-be citizens are particularly motivated to vote in key states that could be decisive in this year’s Presidential election, including Arizona (45 percent), Florida (53 percent), North Carolina (57 percent), Pennsylvania (35 percent), and Texas (35 percent).

Voter registration deadlines have already passed for many states including Florida and Texas, where large numbers of would-be citizens are still waiting on USCIS to complete their pending naturalization applications. If USCIS fails to act, as many as 300,000 people could be denied the right to vote in countless federal, state and local elections this November. 

"Past administrations, both Republicans and Democrats, have rightly prioritized naturalization as core to immigrants' integration into the economic and civic fabric of America,” said Doug Rand, co-founder, Boundless Immigration. “Nobody in this country should be disenfranchised through bureaucratic delay." 

To rectify this situation and minimize harm to the integrity of the United States’ upcoming elections, the ILRC and Boundless Immigration are calling on USCIS to commit to the expeditious processing of naturalization adjudications combined with the common sense use of technology to facilitate remote naturalization oaths. This would allow the agency to complete thousands of naturalization adjudications in time for many new U.S. citizens to vote.

If USCIS refuses to commit to these steps, it will set a dangerous precedent by treating aspiring citizens as political adversaries. This hostile perspective paves the way for future administrations to adopt similar policies and practices, which in turn risks what has traditionally been broad, bipartisan support for naturalization, and the integration of new Americans into the U.S. democratic process. "