Voter suppression by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

There is much talk in this country about voter suppression. Typical voter suppression tactics include purging voters, gerrymandering, instituting voter-ID laws, closing polling places and preventing felons from voting.  I will not discuss the voter suppression tactics in general but would like to point out the voter suppression that is occurring via USCIS slow walking applications for legal residence (which can lead to Naturalization in 3 to 5 years) and slow walking of Naturalization applications.  

Two years ago, an application for Naturalization could reliably be expected to be completed in about 4 months at which time the successful applicant could immediately register to vote. Now, the application can be expected to take over 15 months.  Please keep in mind that to apply for Naturalization, one must be a legal permanent resident for 3 years if you are married to a U.S. citizen or 5 years if you obtain your residence through a business petition or a relative other than a U.S. citizen spouse.

Two years ago, an application for legal permanent residence through a U.S. citizen spouse could be expected to be completed in 4- 5 months. Now it can be expected to take over 20 months. Combined with the increased time for processing naturalization application, the processing time for the spouse of a U.S. citizen to get residence and then citizenship(after the required three years of legal residence)  has increased from 8 months to 31 months. How many elections will they miss during these 31 months?

Two years ago, an application for work permission (which then and now could only be issued in strictly defined circumstances) was legally required to be issued in 90 days but was often approved  in less time. Now the application can be expected to take 7-8 months. Without a work permission, a person is not just unable to work but often is unable to obtain a driver’s license. With an increasingly tight job market, this creates significant hardships for employers as well as the individual applicants.

Delays in processing result in serious repercussion to U.S. businesses as well as the individual applicants and include job loss, loss of critical business contracts, delayed education and the inability to travel internationally for important family and business events.  

According to the USCIS ombudsman, “processing delays at the agency are largely due to fluctuations in filing levels, the lag time between fees increases and the onboarding of new staff, the complexity of case review, enhanced fraud protections, and new security check requirements.”  Filing fees for USICS were substantially increased on Dec 23, 2016 and processing times have continued to grow despite having more money to hire more adjudicators. The ombudsman mentioned among the other reasons ‘complexity of case review” but increases in complexity has been manufactured by USCIS. In reality, the increased processing times can be attributed to what I think is deliberate delays as well as numerous policy changes. One such policy change is the Rescission of the 2004 ‘Deference policy.” Prior to October of 2017, USCIS officers were expected to give deference to prior approvals when adjudicating employment based extensions applications involving the same position with the same employer. Reasonably USCIS policy was saying that you don’t need to re-invent the wheel, if this person and this employer were qualified before then, absent suspicion of fraud, they would most likely be qualified for the renewal. The October 2017 policy threw this out.  Now, petitioners must submit more documentation that the beneficiary is qualified for a position that he or she has been handling for as long as three years. This results in more time reviewing cases, more time issuing RFE’s (request for evidence) and more time reviewing the RFE response even with no change in the employer or the position.

There are other policy changes that have unnecessarily resulted in processing delays. Some of these are done openly through policy guidance memos that are publicly announced but other policy changes have been implemented with no announcement and can only be observed through Freedom of Information Act requests, though investigative reporting and watching adjudications trends. The adjudication trends are often discussed among immigration attorneys sharing their experiences with other immigration attorneys.

Clearly, there is a deliberate, ongoing aggressive policy against legal immigration that is damaging our legacy as a Nation of Immigrants.  The only hope I see is that those who are able to vote should be aware of this form of voter suppression and make a point to vote and to encourage others to vote in the upcoming mid-term elections. We need to make up for the people whose votes have been suppressed.

A good resource to help educate yourself about the candidates and issues is the site , a project of the League of Women Voters. You can go to this site, enter your address and pull up your ballot. This site shows candidate information and allows you to compare the candidates, read their answers to important questions and to see how they stand on issues important to you. Another feature of this site is the explanations of the many constitutional amendments on the ballot. This site explains the amendments and shows what groups support the amendments and what groups oppose them.

If you are concerned about voter suppression please research the candidates and issues, vote and encourage other to vote. Hopefully we will have good news a month from now.

Linda M Kaplan