Coronavirus Created a Backlog of Thousands Waiting for U.S. Citizenship. Will They Get It In Time to Vote?

Eduarda Alvarez was planning to take a vacation with her husband this year to celebrate finally becoming a U.S. citizen.

The retired nursing home staffer immigrated to the U.S. in 1986 from Nicaragua. She tried to become a citizen once before but failed to pass the interview in English. She decided to go through the process again, and in February, she was interviewed in Spanish, and passed. Then COVID-19 struck, and her naturalization oath was never scheduled, Alvarez says.

Now both her plans to celebrate and to vote in the November election are up in the air. She hopes to cast a ballot for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, largely because she does not like how the Trump Administration has treated immigrants. She’s been checking the mailbox at her home in Maryland every day for a notice that her swearing-in ceremony is on the books. “This is the only way one can help those who don’t have a voice,” says Alvarez, 71, in Spanish. “One vote makes a difference, no?”

In February, the Pew Research Center estimated more than 23 million U.S. immigrants would be eligible to vote, comprising about 10% of the national electorate. Now, because of the pandemic, Alvarez has landed on a long list of people who are worried their citizenship won’t come through in time to vote in the high-stakes election. Critics of the Trump Administration, which has aggressively pursued an anti-immigrant agenda, believe it is not moving fast enough on that backlog in a deliberate effort to disenfranchise immigrant voters.

“This is an effort to keep them from voting in the fall elections,” says U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. “I think given everything this administration has done, everything the President has said, and the fact that we have people like Stephen Miller in charge of immigration in the White House, I think we have to view it that way.”

By Lissandra Villa for TIME
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