AILA Statement that the Naturalization Process 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 backlogs.

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.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 98062555.