Watch CBSN Live

Immigration Frustration

In Arlington, Virginia on Independence Day, for hundreds born in other countries, becoming an American citizen is a dream come true. For far too many others, however, it is a dream delayed, reports CBS News Correspondent Jacqueline Adams.

"Three years is an awful long time to wait and see the excitement die off," said Ufumaka Ufumaka Akeh-ugah of Nigeria. "You just feel disenchanted."

In New York's Central Park, some 500 new Americans pledged their allegiance. But amid the celebrating, there was a lot of grumbling.

"Your calls are never answered and you wait and wait," said Philippe Duchene of France.

Michael Peric of Serbia said, "It's bureaucracy, I guess. You can't reach Immigration."

"They are very disorganized," said Hayley Brener of South Africa.

They blame the Immigration and Naturalization Service. On average it takes more than a year and half for the INS to transform an immigrant into a citizen: background check, fingerprinting, in person interview and finally the oath.

But in New York, the wait can be three years.

New York was one of the first offices that went to an electronic system," said William R. Yates, INS Deputy Executive Associate Commissioner. "So New York has suffered probably worst."

Frustrated INS officials blame repeated computer glitches and staff turnovers, coupled with a surge of 345,000 applications for citizenship since last October. Nationwide, the backlog tops 1.8 million cases, with the biggest bulges in New York and Los Angeles.

"It is our goal that by the end of this year… nationally we will reduce the waiting time to 12 months," Yates said.

Attorney Susan Beschta hopes Yates can meet that goal. "I've had 2 clients die. I had another client who has become so disabled in the hospital that when she was finally scheduled for an interview, she wasn't able to go," Beschta said.

At her office in the Immigration Department of the Archdiocese of New York, Beschta has more than 600 stalled cases.

"I think they have the will, but they don't have the money. So Congress needs to give them some more money," she said.

That's exactly why Irish-born restaurateur Ronan Downs wishes he could become a citizen. "I think I d like to vote here, that's my main reason," he said. "I'd like to have a say in the development of the country."

Like thousands of others, Downs applied for citizenship 2 years ago. He had his in person interview at INS seven months ago. Since then, nothing.

For today's newest citizens, though, the wait has ended.