Nine nonprofits from across the country filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) seeking an explanation for the skyrocketing naturalization backlog.
The group says that since January 2016, the backlog applications for citizenship through naturalization has ballooned 93% to 753,352. Last year was the second year in a row that the number of citizenship applications exceeded the number of permanent residents who became citizens. At the current rate, the group states, USCIS will take more than 25 years to reduce the naturalization backlog to the 2015 level of nearly 381,000. And that assumes no new applications.
These numbers are astonishing, particularly given that naturalization applications fell by more than 70,000 in the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period in 2017, according to USCIS.
Two years ago, the processing time for a citizenship application had typically been less than six months. Many immigrants eligible for citizenship are waiting more than 20 months in some areas. For instance, the processing time for a naturalization application can be as long as two years in El Paso, Texas, and 22 months in In Los Angeles. The wait is 20.5 months in Long Island, NY, 14 months in San Jose and San Francisco.
USCIS Under Pressure
The FOIA request follows demands from elected officials to address the backlog of citizenship applications.
More than 30 U.S. mayors and county executives led by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel urged USCIS Director Frank Cissna to “take aggressive steps to reduce the waiting time for processing citizenship applications down to six months, consistent with previous practice.”
In June, more than 50 Congressional lawmakers sent a letter to Cissna requesting that he “commit additional resources and increase capacity to achieve an average processing time for naturalization applications of six months or less.”
Possible Legal Action
If USCIS delays or refuses to respond to the FOIA, the group says it intends to pursue legal action. Government agencies must respond to a FOIA request with a denial or grant of access within 20 business days. However, an agency may exceed this timeframe if it:
- Requests more information from the FOIA petitioner.
- Must search an extraordinary volume of records.
- Files records in multiple offices, which is the case with naturalization applications.
- Must search records from multiple agencies.
- Handles such requests on a first-come-first-served basis and has a backlog of requests.
The nonprofits that filed the FOIA to USCIS are:
We Can Help
The Alcorn Immigration Law team helps individuals and their families apply for everything from visas to citizenship. We can help you determine the best solution to stay and work in the U.S. Contact us to schedule a strategy session.