The Biden administration has kicked off an effort to encourage longtime residents to apply for U.S. citizenship, launching a cross-agency campaign to reach some 9 million people eligible to become Americans.
The campaign to actively recruit new citizens was released shortly before President Biden attended a naturalization ceremony last Friday and represents a remarkable shift in tone from the Trump administration, which sought to raise fees to apply for citizenship and enacted numerous barriers for migrating to the U.S.
“New citizens, strengthened with the power and responsibilities that American citizenship brings, make our Nation better. This strategy will ensure that aspiring citizens are able to pursue naturalization through a clear and coordinated process,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a release that noted a goal of “promoting naturalization to all who are eligible.”
The interagency strategy follows an early February executive order from Biden that directed a working group to review the immigration process and “develop welcoming strategies that promote integration, inclusion, and citizenship.”
It also comes as the administration’s legislation for creating a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million people has stalled in Congress. Biden reignited his calls for changes to the immigration system, including a pathway for Dreamers on Friday.
“Thank you for choosing the United States of America. Believing that America is worthy of your aspirations, worthy of your dreams, making this journey, you’ve done more than move to a new place,” Biden said to the 21 new citizens at the naturalization ceremony.
“All of you represent how immigration has always been essential to America. We’re constantly renewing ourselves.”
Friday’s strategy calls on numerous agencies, including the State Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to promote the citizenship process, funneling migrants toward U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A similar outreach effort would be made for those serving in the military.
Six members of the U.S. military were in the group of new citizens Friday, whom Biden applauded and thanked for their service.
“One of the most basic acts of respect is inviting others into your home. You know, as we close our Immigration Heritage month and start our nation’s Fourth of July weekend I think of no better way to honor each occasion than by welcoming all of you into the White House. The people’s house, I might add, designed by an Irishman,” Biden said. “In a nation shaped by the immigrant’s heart.”
The campaign will not only target lawful permanent residents, many of whom have already been in the U.S. for years, but “will also reach out to people earlier in their immigration journeys to reach those who may one day become eligible for naturalization.”
That could include promoting naturalization at other stages of the immigration process, including when immigrants are granted a Social Security number. It also encourages immigration judges housed within the Department of Justice along with their help desk staff to inform eligible people how to naturalize.
The strategy also calls on USCIS to expand the number of languages citizenship test preparation materials are offered in.
The plan does not, however, specifically call for reducing the fees to apply for citizenship. Under the Trump administration USCIS raised the cost to apply for citizenship from $640 to more than $1,100. The rule has since been challenged in court.