Biskupski, McAdams join national mayors to urge action as Utah sees worst growth in backlog of U.S. citizenship applications

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) 47 soon-to-be American citizens from 22 countries raise their right hand and take the oath of alligiance at a citizenship and naturalization ceremony at the Federal Court building in Salt Lake City Wednesday May 9. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. District Court welcomed 150 people from 43 countries as new U.S. citizens in three ceremonies today.

Last year, Utah’s backlog of legal immigrants who are awaiting approval of U.S. citizenship applications grew faster than in any other state.

So Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams joined a group of 45 mayors and county executives nationally to ask federal officials Monday to “take aggressive steps to reduce the waiting time” — which now takes up to 20 months.

“This alarming backlog means that many in our community who started the naturalization process many months ago hoping to vote in the midterm elections will not be able to do so,” said Mayra Cedano, civic engagement program manager for Comunidades Unidas (Communities United).

That Utah Latino organization is a member of the National Partnership for New Americans, which spearheaded the effort to ask mayors to write to federal officials. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wrote the letter sent Monday, and 44 others signed it, including McAdams and Biskupski.

The letter listed some of the worst increases among the states for backlogs of legal immigrants awaiting naturalization around the country — and noted Utah’s topped that tally last year.

“During 2017, Utah saw an increase of 53 percent; Texas saw an increase of 50 percent; Tennessee saw an increase of 47 percent; Washington saw an increase of 46 percent; and Kansas saw an increase of 44 percent,” it said.

Comunidades Unidas said that, as of the end of March 2018, Utah had a backlog of 5,568 citizenship applications — with some people waiting as long as 20 months for processing. It said that amounts to a “second wall” for immigrant families.

The mayors' letter said that for the second year in a row, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had more applicants awaiting action than it actually approved for citizenship.

Mayors said nearly 730,000 legal immigrants nationally are now awaiting action on their applications. “They have been in our country for many years and have completed all that was asked of them in order to apply,” they wrote.

“The problem is only getting worse. In the last two years, the backlog has increased by over 87 percent, despite the fact that citizenship applications have consistently decreased,” the letter said. “At the current rate, it would take USCIS 25 years to get back down to the Obama administration’s backlog level.… That is just not acceptable.”

The mayors urged officials “to take aggressive steps to reduce the waiting time for processing citizenship applications down to six months, consistent with previous practice,” and asked to see a plan for that.

Luis Garza, executive director of Comunidades Unidas, said, “The practices of this [President Donald Trump] administration are discouraging many Utah families from going through the already complicated naturalization process.”

He added, “We urge other state and local leaders to demand more efficiency and transparency at USCIS so more Utah families have an opportunity to become U.S. citizens in a timely manner.”

Some of the larger cities whose mayors joined the letter Monday include Atlanta; Denver; Los Angeles; Orlando, Fla.; Philadelphia; St. Louis; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.