Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 98062555 (posted Jun. 25, 1998)"
NATURALIZATION NEEDS TO SERVE ELIGIBLE PEOPLE
The Issue: Congressional action on the naturalization process has dramatically impacted the
process by which people become naturalized American citizens. This issue has several
aspects, most importantly Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and Congressional
efforts to reform the naturalization process which have led to interminable delays and increased
Reforming the Naturalization Process: Congress is undertaking naturalization reform
because of both unprecedented demand and the controversy surrounding INS’s Citizenship
USA project, through which a very small number of ineligible applicants were determined to
have been naturalized. Notwithstanding this small number (less than 1% according to a recent
audit), both the INS and Congress reacted by making it increasingly more difficult for all
naturalization applicants, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding people, to go through the
process. Increased scrutiny of all applicants coupled with increased demand have slowed down
the process, leading to a historically large backlog in which about two million people have been
waiting for an average of two years to become naturalized.
The Legislation: Despite a recent audit concluding that current INS naturalization procedures
have integrity, many members of Congress continue to focus on the integrity of the process,
rather than on the eligible, deserving people who are waiting in the backlog and whom we
should be embracing as new citizens. Legislation (H.R.2837/S. 1382) introduced just prior to
the end of the last session of Congress by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Senator
Spencer Abraham (R-MI) would further increase the backlog by making the naturalization
process more bureaucratic and precluding appropriate streamlining (by, for instance, making a
personal interview mandatory and specifying what is asked during the interview). The
legislation would also expand administrative denaturalization.
In contrast, the “New American Citizenship Act (H.R. 3341/S. 1717), introduced by Senator
Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and Representative Dick Gephardt (D-MO), would articulate a vision
of welcome to immigrants seeking to become citizens and provide an anecdote to the negative
legislation and allegations repeatedly raised by opponents of a naturalization process of
integrity, efficiency, and fairness.
The Solution: Congress on a bipartisan basis needs to affirm support for the naturalization
process and the people who seek to be naturalized as well as the importance of naturalizing
people in a timely manner. While the naturalization process must have integrity, efficiency and
fairness also must be achieved. Any reforms Congress mandates and the INS implements
must serve people eligible to naturalize or receive other benefits. Furthermore, while timely
adjudications of naturalization applications must remain a high priority, sufficient resources also
must be allocated to family and employment-based adjudications so that the reduction of one backlog does not lead to the creation of others.