Citizenship Backlog to Curb Latino Vote

Dianne Solis, Dallas Morning News, January 30, 2008

The unprecedented 1.4 million surge in U.S. citizenship applicants won’t translate into an equal number of new voters come November’s presidential election because of a processing backlog.

But U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials said Monday that the agency is hiring more staff and pressing the FBI for more efficient background checks and that delays of weeks just to open mail are behind them.

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The agency has said it will take up to 18 months to process applications at some locations, though applicants in Dallas can expect a six- to seven-month wait.

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In Dallas, the backlog isn’t as serious, with 30,000 applications pending in November, Mr. Aytes said. The number of applicants here increased 49 percent in the last fiscal year compared with the previous year. In San Bernardino, Calif., the increase was 1017 percent; in Los Angeles, 101 percent.

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Fee increase played role

About half of the new naturalization applications were received in June and July—an increase of 350 percent from the previous year, officials said.

Many legal permanent residents were prompted to apply by an increase in the application fee to $675 from $400 at the end of July. Others said they were motivated by the spreading backlash against both illegal and legal immigrants, who’ve been criticized for “chain migration,” or the petitioning on behalf of relatives in Latin America via legal immigration channels.

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Because freshly minted citizens generally turn out at the ballot box, Latino political analysts pay particularly close attention to the naturalization process. A study by the Latino elected officials organization, or NALEO, showed that the turnout rate in 2002 for Latino naturalized citizen voters was 34 percent compared with about 30 percent for native-born Latinos.

Latino voters, like others, care about the economy, education and the war in Iraq, said Rosalind Gold, NALEO’s senior director of policy research and advocacy. “But they want to make sure that newcomers are not scapegoated and unfairly blamed in our immigration debate, and that is part of the motivation for getting out to vote,” she said.

Some 57 percent of Hispanic registered voters call themselves Democrats or say they lean toward the Democratic Party, while 23 percent align with the Republican Party, according to a recent Pew Hispanic Center survey. The October-November 2007 survey of about 2,000 Latinos had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points, in general, and 4 percentage points for registered voters surveyed.

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