Suit seeks immediate citizenship for those waiting on oath

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Scores of people waiting to recite the oath of citizenship — the final step in the citizenship process — should be naturalized immediately so that they have time to register to vote this fall, immigrant rights groups argued in a lawsuit filed in Philadelphia federal court this week.

The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and other groups filed the suit Wednesday on behalf of legal permanent residents whose applications for naturalization have already been approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ field office in Philadelphia.

The organizations say their clients are among thousands nationwide who have had their oath ceremony cancelled or not scheduled due to the pandemic.

They argue that federal law allows the courts to expedite the naturalization process during special circumstances. The organizations say the courts should authorize “judicial oath ceremonies or immediate administrative naturalization by USCIS” to assure that all approved candidates for naturalization are sworn in by late September.

“U.S. citizenship confers fundamental rights, including the rights to vote, to petition for family members to immigrate, and to access certain public programs and benefits,” said Trina Realmuto, executive director of the Massachusetts-based National Immigration Litigation Alliance, which is among the groups involved in the suit. “This lawsuit asks the Court to order USCIS to prioritize conducting oath ceremonies, which had been stalled since mid-March, so that Plaintiffs and proposed class members are not unduly and indefinitely denied these important rights.”

USCIS declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

The agency recently began conducting naturalization ceremonies in small groups, but immigrant rights groups complain its not moving fast enough to get through the backlog of would-be citizens in time for election season.

Registration deadlines for primary elections are approaching in a number of states this summer, and would-be voters must be citizens when they register or risk facing criminal charges or even deportation.

In Massachusetts, Harvard Law School’s Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program and other organizations have asked the Boston federal court to consider holding virtual ceremonies or waive the oath requirement.

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