Citizenship matters – Blog: Think immigration


Next November, Americans will once again head to the polls to vote in a national election that could shift the balance of power in the White House, Senate and House of Representatives. Local elections at the same time will have a profound impact on our daily lives, affecting funding for our schools, roads and welfare programs. The right to vote and determine our elected representatives is at the heart of American democracy. Women, black Americans, and other people of color had to fight long and hard, often at the cost of their own lives, to gain the right to vote.

Many immigrants view the right to vote as a primary reason to apply for U.S. citizenship because it is a right reserved for U.S. citizens. As I enter my tenth year as an immigration attorney, I have had the honor of assisting countless immigrants from many countries through the naturalization process. For some, this is the final hurdle in a long and arduous immigration process. For the others. it’s something they never thought possible due to language or other barriers. But for all my clients, it’s a time of excitement and joy. A time when the country they have chosen as home welcomes them and they can call themselves Americans.

America is a country of immigrants. According to Pew Research Institute, America has more immigrants than any other country in the world – more than 40 million in total. Of these more than 40 million immigrants, nearly 45% are naturalized citizens and represent one in ten eligible voters. But there are millions of others who are eligible for naturalizationaccording to the Department of Homeland Security.

It is for this reason that every year the American Association of Immigration Lawyers, in partnership with the NALEO Educational Fund, the National Partnership for New Americans, Citizenshipworks, AILA local chapters and community organizations, hosts Citizenship Day clinics. Over the years, these in-person and virtual pro bono clinics have helped eligible members of communities across the country move closer to completing the naturalization process. This year, my AILA New England chapter was proud to partner with the MIRA Coalition to host a Citizenship Day Clinic at the Boston Public Library. Despite hurricane threats, we had a tremendous turnout, with 37 volunteers helping to complete 49 citizenship applications; the photos on either side are of some of the wonderful volunteers in our chapter. Other AILA sections are hosting events throughout the rest of September and even into October.

While it may seem too early to think about the 2024 election cycle, USCIS processing delays mean eligible permanent residents need to begin their naturalization application as soon as possible to ensure they are eligible to vote in November 2024. For example, USCIS field offices in New York England currently take an average of 9.5 months to review citizenship applications, meaning someone who files their application in September 2023 might not obtain a decision on their request before June 2024 or later. This happens after primary elections in many states and only a few months before the voter registration deadline for the November election (although in Massachusetts, newly naturalized citizens can register to vote until 16 hours the day before any election!)

The right to vote is at the heart of American democracy – it is both a right and a responsibility. For immigrants interested in voting this upcoming election season, it’s time to start your citizenship application process!


AILA members looking to get more involved in pro bono, National Pro Bono Week takes place the last week of October! Stay tuned for highlights and pro bono opportunities.

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