More new cit­i­zens? It’s no credit to Trump.

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - PERSPECTIV­E - Steve Chap­man Steve Chap­man, a mem­ber of the Tri­bune Edi­to­rial Board, blogs at www.chicagotri­bune.com/chap­man. schap­[email protected]­bune.com Twit­ter @SteveChap­man13

By some baf­fling process, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has ac­quired a rep­u­ta­tion for not wel­com­ing for­eign­ers to our shores. This ter­ri­ble mis­im­pres­sion grieves Ken Cuc­cinelli. He has of­fered a kin­der, gen­tler ap­proach in­tended to re­as­sure ev­ery Amer­i­can who takes a pos­i­tive view of le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

In a Fox News in­ter­view, the act­ing di­rec­tor of U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices spoke of the “very mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence” of the nat­u­ral­iza­tion cer­e­monies he has at­tended, see­ing peo­ple who come from all over the world take an oath of al­le­giance to this coun­try.

Cuc­cinelli said the ad­min­is­tra­tion has ac­tu­ally in­creased the num­ber of peo­ple be­com­ing cit­i­zens.

“Last year, we were in the range of 850,000, and that was the most in five years,” he said. “Peo­ple who come af­ter the pres­i­dent and this ad­min­is­tra­tion say, ‘Oh, you know, you don’t like im­mi­grants.’ Well, we are let­ting more peo­ple be­come cit­i­zens than has hap­pened in years.”

It’s a sur­pris­ing image: Hud­dled masses, yearn­ing to breathe free, flock­ing into the warm em­brace of Don­ald Trump, who swells with pride at their ea­ger­ness to do the right things to be­come full mem­bers of our so­ci­ety. Re­gret­tably, I must ad­vise you it bears no re­sem­blance to the truth.

In the first place, Trump does not spare con­tempt for le­gal im­mi­grants who be­come cit­i­zens.

He said U.S. Rep. Il­han Omar, born in So­ma­lia, brought here as a child and nat­u­ral­ized as a teen, should “go back” to her na­tive land. Maybe you’ve heard about it.

Cuc­cinelli is also an ill-suited mes­sen­ger. He has called for re­peal­ing birthright cit­i­zen­ship and called U.S. Rep. Steve King, an un­abashed white na­tion­al­ist, “one of my very fa­vorite con­gress­men.”

Cuc­cinelli also in­sisted that the pres­i­dent’s call for four Demo­cratic women House mem­bers to leave the coun­try was not racist. So what he ex­udes is not cred­i­bil­ity.

His ac­count was also faulty, as Poli­ti­Fact noted. The 850,000 fig­ure is the num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions that were com­pleted in 2018; the num­ber ap­proved was about 756,800. Cuc­cinelli was off by nearly 100,000.

Be­tween 2016 and 2018, the num­ber of pe­ti­tions ap­proved barely budged.

The num­ber of peo­ple fil­ing cit­i­zen­ship ap­pli­ca­tions did rise in 2017, but not be­cause Trump made them feel they be­long. Just the op­po­site.

U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scan­lon, D-Pa., who was a le­gal ser­vices at­tor­ney at the time of the 2016 elec­tion, has said: “We started en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to ob­tain cit­i­zen­ship if they were el­i­gi­ble, due to the anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric com­ing from the ad­min­is­tra­tion. And I think the ad­min­is­tra­tion helped de­liver that mes­sage pretty force­fully.”

If you’re wor­ried about be­ing pun­ished be­cause you’re a for­eigner, the log­i­cal move is to be­come a U.S. cit­i­zen, with all the pro­tec­tions that go with that sta­tus. It was fear of Trump’s poli­cies that drove the jump in ap­pli­ca­tions.

But ap­ply­ing is not the same as get­ting. Cuc­cinelli ne­glected to men­tion all the ways his agency has im­peded peo­ple from be­com­ing U.S. cit­i­zens.

An im­mi­grant needs to have a green card — that is, be a le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dent — for at least five years to be al­lowed to nat­u­ral­ize.

Cato In­sti­tute an­a­lyst Alex Nowrasteh told me the ad­min­is­tra­tion “has been try­ing to cut down on the num­ber of green cards is­sued each year” — which would cut the num­ber of pos­si­ble nat­u­ral­iza­tions in the fu­ture.

Un­der Trump, the de­nial rate on th­ese ap­pli­ca­tions has risen by more than a quar­ter.

His col­league David Bier notes that USCIS has in­creased “the load of pa­per­work for im­mi­gra­tion ap­pli­ca­tions by dou­ble, triple or more.”

The Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion found that the typ­i­cal time it takes to process an ap­pli­ca­tion for cit­i­zen­ship rose by 46% in the past two years. The Na­tional Part­ner­ship for New Amer­i­cans says that de­spite a drop in ap­pli­ca­tions in 2018, the back­log of pe­ti­tions rose to 738,148. That’s big­ger than the pop­u­la­tion of Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

In many cities, the wait time can ex­ceed 20 months — which means that “cer­tain peo­ple who ap­ply for cit­i­zen­ship to­day may be pre­vented from be­ing nat­u­ral­ized and sub­se­quently be­ing able to reg­is­ter to vote in time to par­tic­i­pate in the 2020 elec­tions,” says NPNA.

That ef­fect could be com­pletely un­in­ten­tional on the part of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, just as Cuc­cinelli could win the Heis­man Tro­phy. Nei­ther is easy to imag­ine.

The pres­i­dent has made his feel­ings about for­eign­ers clear, and his ad­min­is­tra­tion has trans­lated those prej­u­dices into pol­icy.

When more for­eign­ers be­come Amer­i­cans, it’s not be­cause of Trump. It’s in spite of him.

AL DIAZ/MI­AMI HER­ALD

Ileana Gon­za­lez of Cuba re­acts as the oath of al­le­giance is ad­min­is­tered to new U.S. cit­i­zens in a nat­u­ral­iza­tion cer­e­mony in Home­stead, Fla., on July 3.

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