Although the coronavirus pandemic has been disruptive to government agencies, many of them have found ways to use technology to keep going. But opinion writer Catherine Rampell, in her Washington Post column, laments that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office isn’t one of them — unfortunately for potential citizens who are hoping to vote in November’s election.
“Each additional day that the USCIS remains closed,” Rampell explains, “an additional 2100 would-be citizens run out of time to be eligible to vote in November, estimates Boundless Immigration, a company that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship. If the closures continue through late fall, as many as 441,000 will be excluded from the election.”
Rampell stresses that she understands why USCIS closed physical offices, but she wishes that they could find a technological way around that.
“To be sure, the USCIS’s initial suspension of in-person services made sense for public health reasons,” Rampell writes. “Even administrations less hostile to immigrants would have done the same. The problem is what the USCIS has declined to do since.”
Other parts of the U.S. government, Rampell notes, have been using technology to get things done — for example, U.S. Supreme Court justices have been working remotely and hearing oral arguments in cases.
“Across the country, private and public offices have found creative ways to adapt to pandemic conditions,” Rampell observes. “The Office of Management and Budget directed federal agencies to ‘use the breadth of available technology capabilities to fulfill service gaps and deliver mission outcomes.’ The Supreme Court and Senate have managed to conduct critical business remotely…. But when it comes to citizenship oaths, the USCIS has so far refused to swear people in by phone or videoconference.”
Rampell cites Monique Akinpelu, an immigrant from Togo, as an example of someone whose citizenship has been delayed. Akinpelu, who works as a nursing assistant in Atlanta, was scheduled to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen on March 20 when she found out that the USCIS office had been closed — and as of mid-May, she still hasn’t been sworn in.
“Whatever the political considerations,” Rampell writes, “people like Akinpelu are exactly the kinds of new Americans both parties say they welcome: immigrants who have followed the rules, have waited in line, and want to raise their right hand and swear — perhaps on Zoom? — just how much they love this country.”