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PolitiFact Virginia: Cuccinelli "Half True" On Citizenship Claim

Ken Cuccinelli rated Half True

Speaker: Ken Cuccinelli

Statement: “Last year, we were in the range of 850,000 and that was the most in five years...We are letting more people become citizens than has happened in years.”

Date: July 7

Setting: TV interview

Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has been in the center of immigration debate since President Donald Trump appointed him last month as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

During a July 7 interview on Fox News Sunday, Cuccinelli said criticism that Trump and his administration “don’t like immigrants” is refuted by the large numbers of immigrants who have been granted citizenship since 2017.

Cuccinelli told host Dana Perino that he’s attended citizenship ceremonies and described them as “a very moving experience.”

"How many of those people per year is America letting in right now?" Perino asked.

"Well, last year, we were in the range of 850,000 and that was the most in five years. And this fiscal year we will pass that," Cuccinelli said. "People who come after the president and this administration, say, ‘Oh you know, you don't like immigrants.’ Well, we are letting more people become citizens than has happened in years."

Perino said she didn’t think people realize that. "No, they don’t," Cuccinelli responded.

Is it true that more immigrants are becoming U.S. citizens than has happened in years? In total numbers, yes. But the approval rate isn’t the highest it’s been in recent years. And the number Cuccinelli mentioned is inflated.


Naturalization data

Generally, before becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, immigrants must pay a fee, pass a civics test and a background check, have lawful permanent residence for at least five years, and meet other criteria. The final step to becoming a U.S. citizen is taking an Oath of Allegiance to the United States at a naturalization ceremony.

PolitiFact asked USCIS for data backing Cuccinelli’s claim about the Trump administration letting more people become citizens than has happened in years.

In 2018, USCIS approved around 756,800 naturalization applications. That beat approval numbers in 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014. The last time naturalization approvals were higher than 2018 was 2013 -- around 779,900.

In the Fox News Sunday interview, when asked about how many people were naturalized, Cuccinelli said "we were in the range of 850,000" in 2018. But that number refers to applications completed -- both approved and denied. Around 849,500 applications were completed in 2018, according to USCIS’s report.

Naturalization approvals in 2018 -- 756,800 -- weren’t that much higher than in 2016, the last full fiscal year of the Obama administration. In 2016, about 753,100 people were naturalized. That’s a less than 1% increase in absolute numbers of naturalizations from 2016 to 2018.

The report USCIS sent PolitiFact had not just total numbers of people who became U.S. citizens, but also the approval rates.

In both fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the approval rate was 89%. In 2016, 90%.

So while the total number of people approved in 2018 is higher than in five years, the approval rate is not.


Our ruling

Cuccinelli said, "We are letting more people become citizens than has happened in years," and that it was 850,000 people last year.

The 850,000 represents applications completed — both approved and denied.

In fiscal year 2018, about 756,800 people became naturalized U.S. citizens. That’s the highest number since 2013, when it was about 779,900.

Of all naturalization applications completed in 2018, 89% were approved. It was the same percentage in 2017. In 2016, 90% of applications were approved.

Cuccinelli’s statement is partially accurate. We rate it Half True.


PolitiFact Contributer Miriam Valverde wrote this fact-check.



USCIS, Cuccinelli Named Acting Director of USCIS, June 10, 2019

Email exchange, USCIS press office, July 10, 2019

Fox News, Acting Citizenship and Immigration Director Cuccinelli blasts Congress for 'complaining' about border without acting: 'It's the height of hypocrisy', July 7, 2019

USCIS, 10 steps to naturalization

USCIS, 2018 USCIS Statistical Annual Report

DHS, Immigration Yearbook FY 2016, Table 21. Persons Naturalized By Region And Country Of Birth: Fiscal Years 2014 To 2016


The graphic and statement in this story were updated to clarify Cuccinelli's statement. 

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