Editorial: Citizens in waiting

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

For all our disagreements over immigration, Americans are united in saluting our immigrant heritage. All agree that legal immigrants are welcome, especially if they are committed to following our laws, learning our language, studying our history and becoming Americans.

That process culminates in becoming a citizen, an achievement celebrated by all but the most narrow-minded nativists. That's why everyone, regardless of their positions on immigration policy, should be mad at the backlog that is keeping qualified citizens from taking the oath.

The federal agency that handles naturalization has been swamped with applications for citizenship, The New York Times reports. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Citizenship and Immigration Services agency received 1.4 million petitions from legal immigrants to become U.S. citizens, about double the number filed in the previous fiscal year.

Several factors are behind the surge, officials say. Early this year, the feds said they would raise the fees for naturalization from $405 to $675, prompting the first wave. The September unveiling of a new, more difficult, citizenship test also sparked interest.

Then there was the fractious debate over immigration reform, which stalled in Congress last spring. Immigrants, whatever their status, felt threatened by some of the rhetoric. Those who were qualified for citizenship figured out that they would only have a real voice in the debate if they had could back it up with a vote.

Federal officials now say it may take a year of more to process the applications, meaning many of those would-be citizens won't be able to vote in next year's presidential election. Cynics may say politics is at work, but we suspect pure bureaucratic inertia. Either way, it's unacceptable -- and must be fixed.