Hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation--Room Change-- "
KENNEDY QUESTIONS FBI DIRECTOR MUELLER ON NATURALIZATION PROCESS
Hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee
(As Prepared for Delivery)
I thank Chairman Leahy for scheduling this important hearing. It is particularly timely in light of the severe backlog in naturalization applications that are pending adjudication, a process that is overseen jointly by USCIS and the FBI.
Last year, after it was announced that the fees for naturalization would be more than doubled from $330 to $595, almost a million and a half immigrants applied for naturalization, and 1 million of them are still waiting. These are people who have made America their home. They've raised their families here, worked hard and paid taxes. Thousands of them have served in our armed forces, many in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they deserve to become citizens if they qualify.
Until this Administration, citizenship applicants could rest assured that they would be sworn in as new citizens within six months after they applied for naturalization. Prior to last year, this Administration was itself completing the adjudications within seven months. But now it is projecting delays of 16 to 18 months. This is an outrage.
Past experience has shown that increases in fees produce a surge in naturalization applications, as immigrants file to beat the price increase. That's simple economics. It's human nature. There was a fee increase in October 1998, and applications increased sharply. There was a fee increase in February 2002, and applications increased sharply. The same held true after fee increases in April 2004. This Administration was well aware of this history. It also knew that several major organizations were conducting extensive citizenship campaigns. It knew that an immigration debate was raging in Congress, which was making immigrant communities nervous about their future. It knew that immigrantslike immigrants before themwould be eager to participate in the upcoming Presidential election. It should have known that people would apply.
But it did nothing to prepare for the surge in applications. If it had prepared, and held the average adjudication wait to seven months, more than a million new Americans would be eligible to vote this fall. Think of that - a million Americans denied the vote because of a lack of planning.
Citizenship is a precious dream for many immigrants. It symbolizes their full acceptance into American society. For many, it means that they will be able for the first time in their lives to participate in a democratic process. When I speak to new Americans, they often comment that two of their most memorable moments are the citizenship swearing-in ceremony and the first time they enter a voting booth.
Martin Luther King called the right to vote "civil right number one." In our nation of immigrants, the grant of voting rights to each new generation of arrivals has bound us together as a people and been essential in preserving our democracy.
To deny a million people this unique opportunity is shameful. It's voter suppression, pure and simple. It's not enough to tell these people, who work hard and play by the rules: sorry, maybe next election.
Obviously, we all understand that security clearances are essential to our national security. But we cannot stand silent while the process limps along. National security and welcoming new citizens into our country are not mutually exclusive goals. It's not a question of one or the otherwe must do both. Efficient processing of background checks by the FBI serves both national security and voting rights.