HTML _ 98-190 - Naturalization Trends, Issues, and Legislation
24-Jun-1998; Ruth Ellen Wasem; 11 p.

Abstract: In recent years, the number of immigrants petitioning to naturalize has surged, jumping from just over half a million applicants in FY1994 to surpassing one million in FY1995. There were 1.6 million petitions in FY1997 and -- with 568,799 cases approved last year -- the backlog of cases is up to almost 1.7 million. An initiative INS began in 1995 to streamline the process and respond to the increasing caseload, Citizenship USA, has been plagued by fraud and abuses. Most notably, audits documenting the improper naturalization of immigrants with criminal convictions as well as indictments of individuals who ran a citizenship testing fraud ring have led many in Congress to call for reform of the naturalization process. In response, legislation aimed at curbing fraud and abuses of naturalization has been introduced in both chambers. Under U. S. immigration law, all aliens who enter legally as permanent residents have the potential to be citizens. To naturalize, aliens must have continuously resided in the United States for 5 years (3 years in the case of spouses of U.S. citizens), show that they have good moral character, demonstrate the ability to read, write, speak, and understand English, and pass an examination on U.S. government and history. Applicants pay a fee when they file their petitions and have the option of taking a standardized civics test or of having the INS examiner test them on civics as part of their interview. Certain requirements are waived for those who are over 50 years old (and lived in the United States at least 20 years), have mental or physical disabilities, or served in the U.S. military. The Chairmen of both the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration (Abraham) and the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims (Smith) have introduced bills (S.1382/H.R. 2837) that would reform the naturalization process. These bills would extend the period in which the alien must demonstrate good moral character, would amend sections pertaining to the revocation of naturalization, would codify some policies and procedures that lack a statutory basis, and would provide for ongoing quality assurance practices and reports for congressional oversight of naturalization. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims has reported the chairman's substitute version of H.R. 2837, and the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration is expected to consider a substitute bill at their subcommittee mark-up. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration (Kennedy) and the House Minority Leader (Gephardt) have introduced reform bills (S.1717/H.R.3341) as well. INS has proposed a fee increase for filing the naturalization petition that is based upon the estimated cost of providing the benefit, seeking to raise it from $95 to $225. Given the sheer size of the backlog, some observers challenge how these increased fees would result in improved services for the new petitioners. Immigrant advocates, moreover, assert that the Administration and Congress need to invest more resources into naturalization to assure both that the system is not abused and that petitioners are processed within a reasonable time. Congress already earmarked an additional $163 million for naturalization in the FY1998 appropriations, and the Administration is seeking essentially the same levels for FY1999. [read report]

Topics: Population

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