A New Campaign Takes Aim at a “Second Wall” for Immigrants and their Families

OneAmerica joins the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) and others to launch the Campaign to Tear Down the Second Wall and to relaunch Naturalize NOW Campaign. These efforts take a stand against recent anti-immigrant actions taken by the Trump Administration and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in order to protect and build power for the immigrant community.

OneAmerica recently signed on to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with eight organizations across the country to uncover the reasons behind the enormous backlog of citizenship applications and processing delays impacting hundreds of thousands of aspiring citizens.

Last month, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan joined with nearly 50 mayors around the country who signed on to a letter urging USCIS to reduce the backlog and reduce naturalization processing times to six months. On August 13, the City of Seattle also passed a Second Wall resolution reaffirming their commitment to immigrant communities and denouncing the barriers being raised by Trump and USCIS in America’s legal immigration system.

The Washington New Americans (WNA) program at OneAmerica has seen the impacts of the increased backlog on immigrants across the state. Applicants frequently call WNA concerned about why their cases have taken so long, and worried something may have gone wrong with their application. They postpone moving, traveling home to visit relatives, and making other life changes in case anything might further delay their case. Many applicants’ green cards have expired since they applied for naturalization, which means they may have to pay almost $500 to renew their card in order to avoid falling out of legal status. Without a current green card, permanent residents can’t travel outside of the country or change jobs. Many of those who applied for citizenship as early as July 2017 will not be able to vote in the November elections, a benefit that motivates so many permanent residents to gain full citizenship.

There are currently 729,400 pending citizenship applications before USCIS, a shocking 87.59% increase in the number of pending applications in two years, according to data released by USCIS. At the current rate, it would take USCIS over 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.

Washington State has the tenth largest naturalization backlog in the country. The current processing time for the Seattle USCIS field office is between 15-18 months, and even as long as 20 months in some cases. Just two years ago the average time someone waited from the time they mailed their application for citizenship until they took their oath of citizenship was between 6-8 months.

According to recent data, there are more than 17,000 pending naturalization applications from Washington State residents. Compared to only one year ago, this backlog has increased by 46 percent, the fourth highest increase in the nation.

“The Trump administration has been on the attack to reduce not only the presence of undocumented immigrants in the United States but also to reduce legal pathways to immigration and the rights of citizenship for lawfully present immigrants,” said Josh Hoyt, Executive Director of National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA). “Second Wall and Naturalize Now are here to remind immigrants that there is an entire community of support that stands united against these un-American measures.”

The growing backlogs come during an increasingly toxic political climate where the Trump administration has increased immigration enforcement, targeted people who have immigration status or potential forms of relief, including DREAMers and hundreds of thousands of Temporary Protected Status recipients, and shocked the nation by separating families, and banning immigration to the United States from several predominantly Muslim nations.

USCIS is shifting from a customer-service oriented agency toward a cog in the Trump Administration’s immigration enforcement machine. In February 2018, the agency changed its mission statement to remove the words “nation of immigrants” and inserted language focused on “protecting Americans” and “securing the homeland,” presumably from immigrants. USCIS also recently took the unprecedented step of opening an office to strip the citizenship of naturalized citizens. Francis Cissna, Director of USCIS, is also reportedly part of a working group comprised of White House advisor Stephen Miller and officials from different executive agencies that are planning new attacks on immigrants in advance of the midterm elections.

Campaign partners driving these campaigns include NPNA Members: CASA, CHIRLA, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Junta (CT), New York Immigration Coalition, One America, and allies, including Unidos US, Mi Familia Vota, The Citizenship Project, Cities for Action, SEIU, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, and the cities of Chicago, Denver, New York, and Seattle.

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