Fri | Dec 4, 2020

Drive-up US citizenship eases backlog

Published:Tuesday | June 30, 2020 | 9:28 AM
In this Friday, June 26, 2020 photo, US District Judge Laurie Michelson (left) administers the Oath of Citizenship to Hala Baqtar during a drive-thru naturalisation service in a parking structure at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters on Detroit's east side. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

DETROIT (AP) — A 60-year-old United Kingdom citizen drove into a Detroit parking garage on a recent afternoon, lowered the window of her SUV to swear an oath, and left as a newly minted American.

It took less than 30 minutes.

Anita Rosenberger is among thousands of people around the country who have taken the final step to citizenship this month under COVID-19 social-distancing rules that have turned what has long been a patriotic rite of passage into something more like a visit to a fast-food restaurant.

“It was a nice experience in spite of the fact that I was in the car by myself with a mask on,” said Rosenberger, a sales manager for an electronics component company from suburban Detroit.

“And I will say that I will remember this.”

Similar drive-thru ceremonies are being held around the country, but perhaps for not much longer.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services says a budget crisis could force the agency to furlough nearly three-quarters of its workforce, severely curtailing operations as tens of thousands of people wait to become citizens.

That could have potential political consequences, especially in states such as Michigan and Florida where the number of newly naturalised Americans already exceeds the narrow margin of victory for President Donald Trump in 2016.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you have several hundred thousand people who are not in a position to vote in this election but would have been if business had been progressing normally at USCIS,” said Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute.

“That’s been everyone’s concern.”

The citizenship agency has not detailed publicly how it will operate if it doesn’t get $1.2 billion in emergency funding from Congress before August 3.

It said in a written response to questions that “all USCIS operations will be impacted by a furlough” that covers more than 13,000 workers.

USCIS derives nearly all its $4.8 billion budget from fees it charges to people who apply to live or work in the country.

Revenue was already in decline under Trump, whose administration has imposed a number of immigration restrictions. The agency says COVID-19 caused it to drop by half.

Follow The Gleaner on Twitter and Instagram @JamaicaGleaner and on Facebook @GleanerJamaica. Send us a message on WhatsApp at 1-876-499-0169 or email us at or