Interior Department file photo

Fewer People Want U.S. Citizenship But The Line Keeps Getting Longer

There are more than 700,000 pending naturalization cases.

Fewer immigrants are queuing up to become U.S. citizens, but that doesn’t mean the line is getting any shorter.

The number of naturalization applications fell by more than 70,000 in the first three months of 2018, compared with the same period in 2017, according to data from U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS.)

Nevertheless, pending cases are still on the rise. That number increased by more than 20,000 in the first three months of 2018 from the previous quarter.

It’s part of a broader and longstanding pattern of backlogs in the U.S. immigration system that affect everything from immigration court dockets to processing times for certain kinds of visas.

The rise in pending naturalization cases predates Trump. Their numbers ballooned from a little under 300,000 in 2013 to more than 520,000 in 2016, as applications outpaced USCIS’s ability to process them. The agency is now spending more time screening cases for potential fraud under Trump, but USCIS spokesman Michael Bars said it has kept naturalizing citizens at the same pace as previously.

“USCIS consistently welcomes approximately 700,000 to 750,000citizens during naturalization ceremonies across the United States and around the world,” he said in a statement. “In FY2017 the agency naturalized more than 716,000 people, and through the first two quarters of 2018, USCIS is on pace to best its 5-year output levels.”

On Monday, a group of about 50 mayors led by Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel urged USCIS director Lee Francis Cissna to speed up citizenship application processing in a letter. The people whose applications were pending, he wrote, “are residents of our cities, integral parts of our communities and families, and prosperous actors in our local, state and federal economies.”