White House officials announced the start of a nationwide campaign on Thursday to encourage legal immigrants to become American citizens, which could add millions of voters to the electorate in time for the presidential election next year. With about 8.8 million legal residents in the country who are eligible to become citizens, White House officials said they were trying to make it easier to complete the final steps to citizenship.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency in charge of naturalizations, will offer practice tests on cellphones for the civics exam that immigrants must pass, but which many find daunting, and will hold preparatory workshops in rural areas. Applicants will also be able to pay the fee, still a hefty $680, with a credit card.
Also in the works are local initiatives to make immigrants feel more welcome, and a revision of Justice Department regulations that would make it easier for people who want to help immigrants naturalize to obtain credentials to provide basic volunteer legal assistance.
Mr. Obama’s citizenship campaign is part of a package of executive actions first announced in November. The most ambitious of them, a plan to provide protection from deportation and work permits to about five million undocumented immigrants, was challenged in a lawsuit by 26 states and has been blocked in the courts.
For now, White House officials have turned to the citizenship drive, which offers nothing for immigrants without legal status. To be eligible for naturalization, immigrants must have been legal permanent residents for at least three years and, in most cases, five years. The officials insisted the effort was nonpartisan.