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DHS Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman Issues a Study and Recommendations on Naturalization Oath Ceremonies
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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) Ombudsman Michael Dougherty today issued a study and recommendations on Naturalization oath ceremonies.

The Ombudsman noted that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) naturalized more than one million new citizens during Fiscal Year 2008, surpassing last year’s number by almost 400,000. However, the Ombudsman received credible information that one court denied USCIS the opportunity to administer the oath in a timely fashion to more than 1,900 approved naturalization applicants. The court’s delay adversely impacted the ability of these individuals to vote in the recent general elections.

“USCIS leadership and staff worked hard to naturalize these new citizens, and they had the assistance of many district courts that proved flexible in scheduling additional naturalization oath ceremonies,” said CIS Ombudsman Michael Dougherty. “Courts that choose to assert exclusive authority to naturalize new citizens should also embrace a customer service ethic that recognizes the singular importance of oath ceremonies.”

A lawful permanent resident seeking to become a citizen of the U.S. is generally required to apply for naturalization with USCIS, which administers immigration benefits and services for DHS. If USCIS approves the application, the individual is required to take the oath of allegiance to the U.S. The study recommends that administrators overseeing federal court operations work with USCIS to provide better guidance to court officials.

The Immigration and Nationality Act as amended, vests the DHS Secretary with sole authority to naturalize applicants, but gives eligible courts the option to assert exclusive authority to administer the oath of allegiance within 45 days of USCIS approval of the application.

The Ombudsman recommends that USCIS:
  • Issue formal guidance to its district officials, clarifying their prerogatives and obligations under controlling law, regulations and interagency agreements to enhance their working relationship with the courts.

  • Consistently include information at naturalization ceremonies for new citizens to update their status with the Social Security Administration.

  • Proceed with planning to digitize the photograph on and production of Certificates of Naturalization.

  • Post statistics monthly on the number of individuals naturalized and pending naturalization applications.

  • In FY 2007, USCIS received 1.4 million naturalization applications, nearly double the number from the previous year. Average processing times significantly increased after the surge in immigration filings in the summer of 2007.

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