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Rushing to become a citizen? Wait longer!

WASHINGTON D.C. Looking forward to becoming a naturalized citizen in time for this years presidential elections? If so, perish the thought.

Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, explained to the recent House judiciary committee last month that the recent surge in applications due to the increase in fees starting Jan. 1 and the coming elections have overwhelmed his bureau.

The result, he said is that the wait time now naturalization has increased from seven months or less to approximately 18 months or more. Visas for permanent residents sponsored by relatives in the US will take up to one year, up from the current six months or less.

Thousands of Filipinos who have already applied for naturalization throughout the US have criticized the USCIS for the long delay despite the increase in fees meant to hire more hands to help the bureau cope.
Thousands of Filipino permanent residents throughout the US have deplored the recent testimony of the USCIS director before a House hearing that the sudden surge of applicants has resulted in a delay of up to 18 months for the processing of papers.

In his testimony before the House committee, Gonzalez said: This surge will have a serious impact on application processing times for the next couple of years. As a result, based on our response plan, most customers will wait much longer to have their applications completed. As we have reported, the average processing time for naturalization applications has increased from the current average of seven months or less to approximately 18 months. Family-based adjustment-of-status applications increased from the current average of six months or less to 12 months. Our two-year response plan will help us accomplish reducing processing times to six months by the third quarter of Fiscal Year 2010.

In Texas, a group of Filipinos joined others in staging a rally in front of the USCIS office last month to protest the delay, preventing them from participating in this years presidential election.

Were really encouraging the USCIS who increased the fee to $675, which is very, very difficult for a lot of working families, to process those applications. They increased the fee supposedly to be able to augment the resources to make that happen quicker, said Bobby dela Cruz of the Service Employees International Union.
The crowd sang God Bless America and waved American flags. Some wore T-shirts that read, We waited in line, we followed the rules. Citizens 7/4/08. Dont break the promise.”

The rally was organized by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which tries to help improve the lives of working families, said Matthew Henderson, the organizations southwest regional director.
State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, who was at the protest, said he found it ironic that the delays coincided with a presidential election.

The same [delays] occurred in 1996, he said, and those people were able to participate in the election.”
This year, USCIS implemented the increase in fees for naturalization, rasing it from $470 to $675.

Gonzalez said that as a result of the announcement of the increase in fees, there was a surge in the naturalization applications with the USCIS. It was reported that there are more than one million applications for naturalization that are pending right now. Normally, an application for naturalization takes only six to seven months before it is adjudicated.”

He said that the one million applications filed in June 2007 onwards will be naturalized only after the November 2008 presidential election.

These one million applicants include a significant number of Filipino applicants who had filed their naturalization early to be able to vote during the elections in November. If they wait for 18 months, then the applicants are considered disenfranchised as they are prevented from voting as a result of the delay, De la Cruz said.

Sharon Rummery, a spokesperson for the Citizenship and Immigration Services, attributes the delay to lack of sufficient resources to handle the sudden increase in applications for naturalization. According to her, the USCIS is working very hard to find creative ways to deal with this so it will (cushion) the impact.” More staff is being recruited to handle the adjudication of the process but there is no guarantee that it will shorten the processing time.

Traditionally, there has always been an increase in the applications for naturalization before an election. In 1995, the INS (now USCIS) even led an effort to swear in more than one million citizens. It was then thought to be politically motivated and the Republicans accused the Clinton administration of creating a pool of potential Democratic voters in time for the 1996 election.

Now, the Democrats are accusing the Bush Administration of trying to delay the processing of the one million applicants for naturalization so that these new immigrants will be prevented from voting. This suspicion is not exactly baseless considering that the Republicans, in the last couple of years, have consistently rejected bills that are pro-immigrants. Hence, the potential new voters, who are new immigrants, are more sympathetic to immigration issue and will most likely vote for a candidate from the Democratic Party.

It is election year again, and for the eligible Filipino voters, the immigration issue among many other issues, remains a central factor in determining support for a candidate. And for Filipinos waiting to be naturalized, let us keep our hopes that USCIS be efficient and timely, lest there is indeed an intentional disenfranchisement of immigrant voters.

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