National: Coronavirus-Fueled Freeze on Citizen Oath Ceremonies Threatens Voter Registration for 2020 | Michelle Hackman and Eliza Collins/Wall Street Journal
A swelling backlog and extended wait times to become a U.S. citizen, compounded by a slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, threaten to leave hundreds of thousands of potential voters on the sidelines of the November election. The issue has drawn bipartisan concern in recent weeks since U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services closed its offices in March in response to the pandemic and canceled citizenship oath ceremonies, the public events that are the final step in the process, nationwide. Approximately 130,000 people who would have become citizens at these ceremonies are waiting for the events to restart, according to a Wall Street Journal calculation based on USCIS annual data. They are part of a larger backlog of permanent residents waiting to have their citizenship applications processed and unable to complete required in-person interviews. That group totaled about 650,000 people at the end of 2019. USCIS estimated in December, months before the pandemic, that their wait times would average about eight months, compared with less than six months at the end of 2015. Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, said that means most of the permanent residents who applied for citizenship at the start of this year likely won’t complete the process in time to register to vote.