Naturalization Backlog Threatens Thousands of Potential Voters

(ESPAÑOL) Due to a naturalization backlog, over half a million immigrants, whose naturalization applications were filed months ago, are starting to make peace with the fact that they may not be able to cast their first vote as American citizens in November.

The tense political climate has thrown immigration issues into the national spotlight again and a recent application fee increase has motivated thousands of U.S. residents to apply for their citizenship to vote this year. But a swell in state level applications at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has led to backlogs that will prevent many from casting their vote.

At the end of June 2016, 524,014 naturalization applications were reported under review across all 50 states according to the USCIS. Though the number does not represent the exact number of applications in the backlog, a review of the pending cases by state from this period to the third quarter of fiscal year 2015 does show a 31.2 percent growth in pending applications.

USCIS spokesperson Jim McKinney says that the agency is on track to meet its goal of processing applications between five to seven months. He acknowledges that the agency has “experienced a significant increase in applications and petitions across the board” and attributes the discrepancy in processing times to geography and capacity in states.

Processing naturalization applications prior to voting registration deadlines could help tip the balance for a candidate in battleground states.

When comparing the pending cases in states from the third quarters of fiscal years 2015 and 2016, places like Nevada have seen a 89 percent increase while New Jersey almost reaches a 60 percent increase.

The more than 66,100 applications pending in Florida since June 30 could make the difference in a state that is always teetering between turning red or blue.

The USCIS has responded by sending staff to offices experiencing increased workloads and has authorized overtime for specific offices to try and speed up processing times.