Candidates for American citizenship recite the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' Washington Field Office in Fairfax, Va.

Candidates for American citizenship recite the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' Washington Field Office in Fairfax, Va. Patrick Semansky / AP

Biden to Involve Agencies Across Government in Citizenship Process

Many federal agencies will help promote the naturalization process and reduce barriers.

The Biden administration has launched a governmentwide effort to boost interagency collaboration to help immigrants become U.S. citizens, looking to better leverage activities taking place throughout government. 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the Interagency Strategy for Promoting Naturalization on Friday, following an executive order President Biden signed in February to strengthen the legal immigration system. The strategy was developed by eight federal departments and will launch new memoranda of understanding between USCIS and other agencies to promote outreach, education and awareness of pathways to citizenship. Through the new partnerships, the administration said it is hoping to address fears and other barriers that prevent long-term immigrant residents from accessing naturalization services. 

“New citizens, strengthened with the power and responsibilities that American citizenship brings, make our nation better,” said Homeland Security Department Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “This strategy will ensure that aspiring citizens are able to pursue naturalization through a clear and coordinated process.”

The strategy will involve both launching new initiatives and expanding existing ones, including through growing grant programs. Agencies will grow their social media campaigns to promote study materials, information about the application process and contributions of naturalized citizens. Agencies will launch joint webinars, create educational materials, produce cultural events and share training materials that address the naturalization process. 

USCIS has signed MOUs with the National Park Service to expand naturalization ceremonies at NPS sites and examine placing educational materials there and the Education Department to leverage adult literacy programs to inform individuals about naturalization. It will further work with Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Postal Service to place relevant materials at ports of entry and post offices. The agency is also pitching USPS on creating stamps that highlight the accomplishments of naturalized citizens. It is working with the Social Security Administration to ease the process of eligible immigrants to receive Social Security cards. 

USCIS is collaborating with the Defense Department to develop and promote a new website on military naturalization. Agencies with existing relationships with immigrant communities—such as the Agriculture Department, the Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review, the Veterans Affairs Department, the Housing and Urban Development Department’s regional offices and others—will also seek to boost outreach on naturalization options.  

“USCIS remains committed to empowering immigrants to pursue citizenship along with the rights and opportunities that come with it,” said USCIS acting Director Tracy Renaud. “There is no greater testament to the strength of America than our willingness to encourage others to join us as U.S. citizens as we work together to build a more perfect union.” 

As it turns to the rest of federal government for assistance in boosting naturalization for those eligible, USCIS is still reeling from its own budget crisis. The largely fee-funded agency nearly furloughed about 70% of its workforce last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, going as far as sending notices out to employees before ultimately finding that other cost avoidance efforts—including a lengthy hiring freeze—would be sufficient to carry it over. In a report issued this week, the USCIS ombudsman said the agency’s budget situation is still dire. 

“The lingering effects of temporary office closures, insufficient revenue, and budget cuts continue to impact processing times and customer service functions,” the ombudsman said. “While the agency recently lifted its hiring freeze, it will take months, if not years, to re-achieve full staffing.”

USCIS noted the situation could impact its new initiative. It projected confidence its goals were achievable, but noted “individual departments currently face challenges including budget shortfalls resulting in hiring freezes, and pandemic-related temporary office closures and restrictions have limited our ability to conduct in-person events.”