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AILA Press Release on Naturalization Process

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 97121759 (posted Dec. 17, 1997)"

AMERICAN IMMIGRATION LAWYERS ASSOCIATION
1400 EYE STREET N.W. Suite 1200
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20005

For immediate release
December 18, 1997

Contact: Peggy McCormick
Phone: 312-427-6163
Fax: 312-427-6513

New Report Proves that Naturalization Process is Sound

Chicago, IL - The accounting firm KPMG Peat Marwick released a report yesterday that concludes that INS naturalization procedures have integrity. The report confirmed that district offices are complying with the new quality procedures that the agency initiated last June in response to Congressional scrutiny.

"This clean bill of health should allow INS and Congress to turn their attention where it needs to be - to clearing the unconscionable backlogs and providing timely adjudications for naturalization applicants," stated AILA President Margaret McCormick.

In response to vastly increased demand that created unacceptable backlogs, the INS had launched its "Citizenship USA" initiative in early 1996. In Chicago, Mayor Daley’s Citizenship Assistance Council worked in partnership with the INS to promote Citizenship USA efforts, hosting large swearing-in ceremonies at places like Navy Pier, the United Center and the University of Illinois. The Citizenship USA program resulted in grants of citizenship to 1.046 million people in 1996.

Congress conducted extensive oversight hearings to review the program in 1997, alleging widespread INS abuse in the naturalization program and charging that thousands of "criminals" were erroneously granted citizenship. A prior audit already had concluded that these charges had little factual basis, and that fewer than 300 applications were mistakenly granted in 1996, an error rate of well under 1%. Nevertheless, INS took steps to improve its procedures and quality controls. The Justice Department contracted with Peat Marwick to audit these new procedures. The final audit confirms the entire program’s accuracy and integrity.

"These audits confirm what we knew all along, that the vast majority of immigrants applying to become citizens are honest, dependable individuals who want nothing more than to take on all rights and responsibilities associated with American citizenship," McCormick stated. "By implying that a significant percentage of naturalized citizens had criminal records, Congress did a real disservice to our immigrant communities."

Further, while reforms were underway, and Congressional attention focused unduly on the miniscule percentage of people wrongly naturalized, the citizenship backlog has continued to grow. In 1997, 1.6 million applications for naturalization were received, but only 569,822 were approved. "This means that over 1 million applications for naturalization are currently pending," explained McCormick.

Experts now estimate that the backlog will cause current citizenship applicants to wait over two years for their paperwork to be processed. "AILA commends INS’ plans to reduce this huge backlog. While timely adjudications of naturalization applications remain a high priority, we want to make sure that sufficient resources are also allocated to family and employment-based adjudications so that the reduction of one backlog does not lead to the creation of others," McCormick continued.

"The Peat Marwick audit proves that the U.S. naturalization process is sound," McCormick concluded. "It is time we turn our attention back to the worthy goals of Citizenship USA - reaffirming our nation’s highest tradition of welcoming newcomers and fulfilling their aspirations to become part of our nation."

 
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