Tear Down the Second Wall - Organizational Sign-on Letter

July 2, 2018

The Honorable Lee Francis Cissna
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
20 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20529

Re: Second Wall of Pending Applications Preventing Hundreds of Thousands of Eligible Lawful Permanent Residents from Becoming Citizens

Dear Director Cissna,

We, the undersigned community organizations, labor unions, faith institutions, and other stakeholders, demand that U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS) take aggressive steps to reduce the enormous amount of citizenship applications pending before the agency and reduce the waiting time that it takes to process these applications down to six months.

The most recent data from USCIS reveals that as of the end of fiscal year 2018, quarter one, covering October 1 to December 31, 2017, there were 729,400 pending naturalization applications.[1] This represents a 87.59% increase in the backlog over the last two years.[2] If USCIS continues to reduce the backlog at this rate, it would take almost 25 years to get back down to the Obama administration’s backlog level of 380,639 applications in 2015, not taking into account new applications.[3]

As you know, these numbers represent hundreds of thousands of eligible lawful permanent residents (LPRs) who have come to this country in search of a better life, have become an integral part of our communities, have worked hard, and contributed to their families and the economy. They applied for citizenship as part of a legal process that is as old as the nation itself, was envisioned by its founders, created by the Constitution, and codified in federal law.[4] They have long contributed to the diversity, richness, and strength of the nation.

Unfortunately, the enormous and consistent backlog of citizenship applications before USCIS serves as a “second wall” that prevents eligible LPRs from the opportunity and right to naturalize, closing off their ability to become citizens, voters, and active participants of democracy. It also shows an incredible lack of accountability by USCIS to its mission and to the public, and undermines the welcoming national values of fairness, equal treatment, and opportunity.

This second wall is blocking 137,538 immigrants from becoming citizens in California, 97,788 in Texas, 94,491 in New York, 87,722 in Florida, 30,896 in New Jersey, 26,072 in Illinois, 19,819 in Georgia, and 17,953 in Pennsylvania.[5]

And the problem is only getting worse. The newest data from USCIS reveals that although the number of applications received by the agency is down by almost 12 percent from the previous quarter, USCIS processed 27 percent fewer applications. Over the last quarter, the backlog of citizenship applications actually increased in 19 states and territories. Some states saw an up to doubling of pending citizenship applications over the past fiscal year, with Utah suffering an increase of 53 percent, Texas over 50 percent, Tennessee over 47 percent, Washington over 46 percent, and Kansas over 44 percent.[6]

This is simply unacceptable. At best, the second wall of pending citizenship applications shows ineffective, bad government that lacks accountability. At worst, the second wall is a malevolent form of voter suppression that echoes an oppressive racial history where United States policymakers used immigration law as a means of implementing their racial animus and excluding immigrants based on their race, ethnicity, religion, and where they came from.

The second wall is particularly alarming given recent changes within USCIS. The agency decided to change its mission in February 2018, excluding the phrase, “a nation of immigrants,” as well as its commitment to promoting “an awareness and understanding of citizenship.”[7] In June, it took the unprecedented step of opening an office and allocating resources in order to strip citizenship of naturalized citizens.[8] It has also been reported that you, as the director of USCIS, have been part of a working group, comprised of senior policy advisor to the Trump administration, Stephen Miller, and officials from several executive departments, that has been planning on how to use executive authority and regulations to launch new attacks against immigrant communities in advance of the midterm elections.[9]

These developments cause great concern among immigrant communities that the leadership of USCIS sees itself as a purveyor of a nativist agenda that seeks to limit immigrants’ participation and contributions to the United States, instead of one that is accountable to the public.

We respectfully but strongly urge USCIS to reject hardline approaches against immigrant communities, including eligible LPRs who are applying for citizenship, and take aggressive steps to reduce the second wall of pending citizenship applications before the agency and reduce the waiting time for processing them down to six months.

As immigrants, family members and neighbors of immigrants, workers, and people of faith, we encourage you to be on the right side of history and lead a USCIS that welcomes immigrants and realizes the strength of a diverse and vibrant nation.


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