Citizenship: The Urgency of Now

Those eligible for citizenship face increased wait times

If you are eligible for U.S. citizenship and having been waiting for the right time to apply, that time is now.

The timeline for processing naturalization applications has been steadily growing longer, and the waiting time in the Washington, D.C area now averages around nine months. The average wait time around the country has doubled, with applicants in cities like Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, and Miami waiting a year or longer.

In the last two years, nearly two million immigrants in the U.S. applied to naturalize and become citizens, a record-breaking number. However, in the same amount of time, the backlog of lawful permanent residents waiting for their citizenship applications to be processed increased from 367,009 to 734,209, a 100 percent increase in the number of pending applications in two years, according to the National Partnership for New Americans.

Asian immigrants are more likely than the overall foreign-born population to be naturalized citizens. As of 2014, 59 percent of the 12.8 million Asian immigrants in the United States had received U.S. citizenship, compared to 47 percent of all immigrants. While naturalization rates have been getting higher for Asian Americans, these rates could still be improved, along with voter turnout.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies coming from this administration and Congress highlight just some of the reasons why immigrants who have not yet become citizens should apply now. And it’s never too late.

Mr. Francisco Jon, pictured with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC and Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center staff, is just beginning the naturalization process at 90 years old. (Advancing Justice | AAJC Photo)

Mr. Francisco Jon, of Arlington, Virginia is 90 years old, and is just beginning the naturalization process. He has held a green card for 40 years and has sons who served in the military. He has made up his mind that he needs to vote. He recently attended a citizenship workshop in Rockville, Maryland to learn more about how to become a citizen.

“I am very excited because my purpose is to vote. I have never voted. I am looking forward to be an American citizen,” Mr. Jon told us during a recent press briefing.

Nine months from now brings a critical time for citizens to raise their voices: the 2018 midterm elections. But even if you become a citizen after the midterm elections, applying for citizenship now will allow you to vote in elections in the years to come.

In addition to voting, U.S. citizenship brings with it the possibility of running for elected office, applying for government jobs, eligibility for a U.S. passport, the comfort of knowing you will not lose your visa or Legal Permanent Status, and many more advantages.

However, increased processing time is just one obstacle potential citizens face on the pathway to citizenship. It can be expensive, with a total application cost of $725. It also involves testing on English and civics, plus a criminal background check.

That’s why organizations such as our own are ramping up efforts to make naturalizing easier. Advancing Justice | AAJC, as well as our affiliate Advancing Justice | Los Angeles, are partners of the New Americans Campaign (NAC), a national network of organizations and funders working together to help as many people as possible apply for naturalization. Through the NAC, we partner with other organizations to hold regular citizenship application workshops in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. At these workshops, bilingual volunteers assist people with filling out their naturalization applications. We routinely field volunteers who speak Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese, and can assist in other languages as needed. All applications completed during these workshops are reviewed by an attorney.

Those who have gone through the naturalization process can attest that becoming a citizen is an emotional experience that instills much pride and joy to be part of a nation with freedom and opportunity. If you, a family member, or friend is eligible, know that there are people and resources out there who can help make the process less daunting.

Immigration and citizenship has always made our country stronger, and we will always work to ensure Asian Americans and all Americans are able to fully participate in our democracy.

For more information, Advancing Justice | AAJC recently held a press briefing with fellow NAC organizations the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center, CASA, Hogar Immigrant Services, and the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, about naturalization. Listen to the recording.

Sign up for the next citizenship workshop and other upcoming workshops in Washington, D.C.

Visit the New Americans Campaign website for events across the country.

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Advancing Justice – AAJC

Fighting for civil rights for all and working to empower #AsianAmericans to participate in our democracy.