Wendy De Los Santos passed the test to become a U.S. citizen just days before government offices shut down nationwide because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In mid-March, officials said they would tell her in a few weeks when she could publicly recite the oath of allegiance, the final step before becoming an American citizen.
More than two months later, she’s still waiting.
“It is causing some anxiety. It would be nice to finish the process, even if it has to be done virtually,” said De Los Santos, a 38-year-old Boston-area medical assistant originally from the Dominican Republic. “I mean, my daughter is taking classes on Zoom. We’re here. What’s the problem?”
While many parts of American life have pivoted online or are beginning to reemerge from weeks of lockdowns, the citizenship process has ground to a halt.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which handles citizenship, visa, refugee and asylum claims, postponed in-person services on Mar. 18, citing concerns about the virus spreading. It’s extended the suspension at least through June 3.
A limited number of small naturalization ceremonies have taken place, but advocates complain that most aspiring citizens haven’t been told when the final step will happen.
Citizenship groups warn the delays threaten to disenfranchise thousands of potential voters in a critical election year.
Registration deadlines for primaries are approaching in a number of states, and would-be voters must be citizens when they register or risk facing criminal charges or even deportation, they say.
“This is yet another attempt to politicize access to voting,” said Kristen Clarke, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The final ceremonial step should not be used as a pretext to deny otherwise citizenship-eligible individuals access to the ballot.”
USCIS is holding more ceremonies as it becomes better at using new formats, deputy director for policy Joseph Edlow said.
But he said federal law requires people to take their oath “publicly” and “in person” and that key parts of the ceremony can’t be done virtually, such as collecting permanent resident cards and issuing citizenship certificates.