[I]s there anything to it? Jason Salzman, a Colorado blogger, took Coffman’s suggestion and looked into it. The short answer is no. That’s the longer answer, too.
As Salzman notes, undocumented immigrants can’t be moved through the citizenship process, because a prerequisite of applying for citizenship is that you have to be living here legally. The number of fee waivers that have been granted have increased, but again, there’s no way to grant a fee waiver to someone who isn’t a lawful resident so that’s kind of moot; the change is due to the fact that there wasn’t previously an easy way to apply. And most crucially, there hasn’t actually been an increase in the number of naturalized citizens…
On the Caplis and Silverman show Aug. 19, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) accused the Obama administration of speeding up the citizenship process for illegal immigrants, so they can become U.S. citizens in time for the 2012 election.
Even in today’s world of nonstop political attacks, that’s a serious accusation.
It came as Coffman was discussing Obama’s decision to de-prioritize deportations of illegal immigrants who pose no security threat. This, Coffman said, was just “one piece of the puzzle.”
“There’s another piece of this puzzle,” Coffman continued. “What the Administration is doing, is taking a very aggressive move in the people that have illegal status and moving them through citizenship and waving all the fees and waving anything they can to get the process done in time for 2012. That’s something I would love to see the media focus on.”
I thought I’d take Coffman up on his request, since Caplis and Silverman let his salvo fly out the window unchallenged.
If you take two minutes to glance at the basic guidelines for becoming a U.S. citizen, it’s immediatly clear that illegal immigrants need not apply to be citizens, much less get their immigration fees waived. You have to be in the U.S. legally to qualify for consideration. With rare exceptions, you have to be a legal permanent resident (also known as a holder of a “green-card“), for three-to-five years to meet our country’s citizenship requirements.
So, unless I’m missing something, Coffman’s allegation about about Obama rushing “illegal immigrants” onto the voting rolls has to be a pure falsehood.
I also couldn’t find any proof that Obama is waiving fees to speed up the naturalization process for legal immigrants, in a secret effort to influence the 2012 election.
If Coffman were right about this, Obama’s co-conspirators would be found at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the branch of the Department of Homeland Security that handles immigration, including fee waivers.
Asked whether her agency was speeding up the processing of citizenship applications in advance of 2012, Angelica M. Alfonso-Royals, Deputy Chief of the USCIS Office of Communications, stated via email:
The suggestion that USCIS has accelerated either the processing of citizenship cases or the processing of fee waiver requests for any reason is without merit. To this point, USCIS, back in 2009, solicited feedback and heard stakeholder concerns regarding a standard and consistent fee waiver policy. This feedback informed the creation of a new fee waiver form in 2010 that provides transparency and consistency, allowing us to better serve financially disadvantaged individuals seeking immigration benefits. That said, each individual case is unique and decided based solely on its merits.
Alfonso-Royals sent me figures showing that her agency, under Obama, has granted more fee waivers for people seeking to be full U.S. citizens than it did under Bush. So far this fiscal year, about 45,000 fees for the citizenship application (the N-400 form) have been waived , 19,000 were waived in FY 2010, 7,000 in FY 2009, 8,000 in FY 2008, and 5.000 in FY 2007.
The USCIS charges fees, which cover 90 percent of the USCIS budget, for lots of other immigration-related applications, not just for the application for naturalization. For example, there’s an application, with a fee, to obtain a green card. Waivers for all types of fees have increased during the Obama Administration (150,000 total waivers in FY 2011, 101,000 in FY 2010, 64,000 in FY 2009, 51,000 in FY 2008, and 35,000 in FY2007, according to the USCIS).
Fees are waived for individuals facing financial hardship and other criteria, including household income of below 150% of the poverty level. (Here’s the fee-waiver form. Prior to 2010, applicants could receive fee waivers, but there was no official fee-waiver application form.)
The increased number of fee waivers does not translate into more people actually becoming U.S. citizens with voting rights. The total number of people who went through the naturalization process has decreased during the Obama Administration (about 676.000 in FY 2010, about 744,000 in FY 2009, about 1,047,000 in FY 2008, 660,000 in FY 2007, and 702,000 in FY 2006), according to USCIS data.
|Total Naturalized Citizens: Fiscal Years 2001-2010 (source: USCIS)|
So in the comfort of the Caplis and Silverman Show, Coffman asked the media to spotlight his accusation about the Obama Administration swelling the voter rolls with illegal immigrants. The radio hosts didn’t do it, so I did, and no matter how you look at it, Coffman’s attack looks like misinformation, based on wrong or incomplete facts.
Caplis and Silverman should set their audience straight on this matter–and other reporters should air out this apparent misinformation further.