- The senators warn that it could be a repeat of history
- The implications for the increase in processing applications can be controversial ahead of the election
In the letter
to Jeh Johnson, Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin specifically suggest that new voters could provide Democrats with an advantage. They refer to an internal agency email
from US Citizenship and Immigration Services about processing applications "due to the election year." The memo encourages DHS staff to work overtime to process applications and notes several Saturdays that offices will be open to help process applications.
The senators say a similar effort in 1996 to increase citizenship applications "endangered national security and public safety" because not all the cases were processed following the correct protocol, such as fingerprint checks.
The Department of Homeland Security said it aims to ensure naturalization applications are processed on time.
"USCIS's goal is to process applications for naturalization within five to seven months, regardless of external events such as elections. USCIS uses statistical forecasting models to plan for the potential increased volume of work. USCIS anticipated that there would be a spike in applications this year, as we usually see in an election year, but the increase ... has exceeded expectations," Homeland Security said in a statement.
The prospect of more immigrants becoming citizens likely stands to benefit Democrats.
The implications are controversial because Democrats have made a push to get new immigrants to register to vote, aiming to build up an anti-Trump demographic particularly among Latinos.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services show a 14.5% jump in naturalization applications in June-December of 2015 compared with the same six months in the previous year. Federal data does not break down those applications by race, but grass-roots organizations, like the Florida Immigrant Coalition, say their naturalization drives across their swing state are filled primarily by Latinos, who overwhelmingly vote Democrat.
Democrats have been accused by Republicans during the 2016 season of trying to increase turnout by adding voters. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump last month slammed
an effort by Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to restore voting rights to some convicted felons who have completed their sentences.