Deadline Set On Citizenship Background Checks

Deadline set on citizenship background checks

Posted on Thu, Apr. 03, 2008

WASHINGTON — Federal officials vowed Wednesday to plow through thousands of languishing citizenship background checks in time for the upcoming presidential election.

The pledge came as members of Congress blasted Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff for the naturalization delays, which critics charge could prevent tens of thousands of eligible citizens from voting.

An estimated 60,000 citizenship applicants have been waiting more than six months for the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to complete the background checks, and dozens have sued the government — some after waiting years to be cleared.

On Wednesday, the FBI and Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), the agency that grants naturalization, committed to processing by November all background checks of those who have been waiting more than a year.

Many times, applicants have fulfilled all other requirements for naturalization except for the “name checks.''

Beginning in June 2009, the two agencies plan to process 98 percent of them within 30 days.

The FBI said it could meet the self-imposed deadlines because it plans to hire more than 100 contract workers. DHS has pledged to hire 3,000 workers to reduce backlogs.

Daniel Kowalski, an attorney who tracks developments in immigration law as the editor of Bender's Immigration Bulletin, praised the agencies for setting deadlines.

''They definitely could pull it off,'' he said. “It's always been a matter of simply allocating resources in the right way.''

In testimony before a Senate committee on Wednesday, Chertoff said DHS estimates that more than one million people will be processed this year in time for the elections.

However, Chertoff acknowledged that a ''significant'' number of eligible applicants might not become citizens in time to vote in the presidential elections.