Ahead of the presidential election, the Obama administration is spending millions on a program that will — among other things — likely aim to register new immigrants to vote by November, administration critics said.
Under the White House Task Force for New Americans, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, will fund “citizenship instruction” and “citizenship education.” While this does not specifically call for boosting voter rolls, the White House task force has worked closely with the National Partnership for New Americans, an organization that has a stated goal of adding 1 million new voters. The same organization has publicly criticized Republican candidate Donald Trump for “hateful rhetoric.”
A USCIS spokesperson told TheBlaze the grants are specifically targeted to classes that integrate instruction on U.S. history and government, English as a second language, and instruction on the naturalization process. The spokesperson did not say if voter registration could be included in the larger categories of government. The program is supported entirely by fees and not by tax dollars, the spokesperson said.
“In fiscal year (FY) 2016, a total of approximately $10,000,000 in federal funding is available for the USCIS Citizenship and Integration Grant Program,” the USCIS grant announcement says. “It is anticipated that approximately $1,000,000 will be used to fund citizenship instruction through the program described in this funding opportunity. In addition, another $9,000,000 will fund programs that provide both citizenship instruction and naturalization application services through funding opportunity DHS-16-CIS-010- 002.”
The policy amounts to an “imported voter program,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog group.
“Millions of dollars going to advocacy groups to register first-time voters is ripe for potential fraud,” Fitton told TheBlaze. “Americans should be quite skeptical that there will not be voter registration fraud.”
There are strict guidelines on how the money could be used by grantees, a USCIS spokesperson told TheBlaze in an email response:
There are very strict rules on what the funding these grants offer can be spent on. The first opportunity, the Citizenship Instruction and Naturalization Services Funding Opportunity, may only be used to provide direct citizenship preparation services to permanent residents. The program design must include both of the following two components: Citizenship instruction to prepare lawful permanent residents for the naturalization test and interview, and naturalization application services, provided within the scope of the authorized practice of immigration law, to support permanent residents in the naturalization application and interview process.
The second opportunity, the Citizenship Instruction Funding Opportunity, will be awarded to community-based organizations in order to support their efforts to establish new citizenship instruction programs or expand the quality and reach of existing citizenship instruction programs. The grant funding may only be used to provide direct citizenship preparation services to permanent residents. The program design must include citizenship instruction to prepare lawful permanent residents for the naturalization test and interview.
The White House did not immediately respond to inquiries from TheBlaze. Heading up the White House Task Force on New Americans is President Barack Obama's domestic policy director, Cecilia Muñoz, a former vice president with the National Council of La Raza, which advocates for granting legal status to illegal immigrants.
The program is similar to Citizenship USA, which then-Vice President Al Gore ran ahead of the 1996 presidential election. Critics at the time said the program bypassed normal procedures, such as FBI background checks, to rush the naturalization process in time for new potential Democratic voters during the Clinton administration.
A Chicago alderman, Daniel Soilis, wrote to then-first lady Hillary Clinton to say the program would “provide the Democrats with a strategic advantage” and that “people stuck in Chicago’s naturalization bottleneck represent thousands of potential voters.”
Such programs are typically politicized, said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform.
“Since money is going to advocacy groups, I would wonder about the kind of policing that is going on to make sure these groups aren’t pushing through people who would not otherwise be qualified to register to vote, if there is not sufficient oversight,” Mehlman told TheBlaze. “The administration is doing this because it is helpful to them politically. Newly naturalized people defending on government services is a natural Democratic constituency.”
The original headline on this post was indicated the program was funded by tax dollars. The USCIS clarified it is is funded through fees.