Some legal residents who applied for U.S. citizenship expecting to vote in the general election may not get to cast ballots.
A large number of pending applications is impacting many of those seeking citizenship, with more than 520,000 applications awaiting processing for naturalization nationwide, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data as of June 30. That number is about 100,000 more than were pending a year earlier.
In Southern California alone, there were nearly 62,000 pending applications as of the end of June, about 12,000 more than a year ago.
Among those waiting is Alicia Sepulveda, 60, a legal resident from Mexico who, along with her husband, applied for citizenship last November.
“We wanted to vote!" said Sepulveda, a Long Beach resident. "We thought it would be really great to be U.S. citizens.”
Her husband completed the naturalization process and became a citizen several months ago. He has taken his oath and registered to vote and plans to cast a ballot next month. But Sepulveda is still waiting for her government interview, among the first steps in becoming a citizen.
"I've been calling the citizenship office asking, 'What is going on?'" Sepulveda said in Spanish. "I want to vote!"
Sepulveda said among the factors that motivated her to apply for citizenship was the harsh rhetoric about immigrants from GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.
There's typically a spike in citizenship applications ahead of national elections, said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund. But the anti-immigrant talk has driven many Latinos and other immigrants this year to apply for citizenship.
“The unique rhetoric of this campaign that we have had over the past eight or nine months, and that has put immigrants and immigration in the forefront, I think that has contributed to people's urgency to become a citizen," said Vargas.
But while many applicants cite the election for their interest in becoming citizens, Vargas said, the spike isn't as sharp as what was seen in 2007, before citizenship application fees went up from about $400 to $675.
Vargas said he wishes federal officials were better prepared to resolve the latest application rush.
"We're disappointed that USCIS did not anticipate this surge," Vargas said.
Immigration officials said in a statement that while they have seen a "significant increase" in applications and petitions for citizenship, the agency "is currently meeting its goal to process applications for naturalization within five to seven months."
The agency also went on to state that the "current pending workload does not equate to a backlog," although advocates for immigrants and applicants disagree.
If applicants like Sepulveda don't get to vote in this election, Vargas said, there's always the next one.
"We want to make sure the people who enter the electorate by becoming naturalized citizens become voters for life," he said.