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Seeking citizenship in Seattle? You may now need to drive to Portland

Immigrants in South Seattle and Bellevue who applied for citizenship will now have to travel to Yakima or Portland for their naturalization interview instead of having it at the local Seattle office.

Last year, more than 17,000 people in Seattle applied to become U.S. citizens. The wait line can take up to a year and a half.

So officials are now rerouting people to Portland if they live in South Seattle and to Yakima if they live east of Seattle proper.

“This would be a good solution if people could opt into it,” said Oksana Bilobran, staff attorney at the Refugee Women’s Alliance.

“The type of clients we work with here tend to be low-income, disabled, elderly. For them it’s going to be very difficult to find transportation, take off time from work, find babysitters," she said.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said this new policy will help cut down on wait times.

By email a spokeswoman said: “While many factors relating to an individual’s case can affect processing times, waits are often due to higher application volumes, rather than slow processing.

"We are implementing a national strategy to decrease geographic disparities.

"This will help restore balance to workloads across USCIS field offices with the overall goal of reducing processing times.”

In Seattle, that time is anywhere from 15 to 17 months. In Yakima it's as short as 10 months, with Portland's lines as short as six months.

USCIS would not confirm how long the policy will be in place or how many people the policy would impact.

Still, Bilobran worries this new policy is more harmful than helpful.

"One of the first notices I got was for a client who is completely legally blind. Figuring out transportation to Portland is much more complicated than taking a bus from her house," Bilobran said.

If immigrants miss their appointment date and cannot provide a valid reason for missing their appointment, USCIS can deny their case.

The federal agency would not confirm how long the policy will be in place.

But people are receiving notice of this change already, with the first rerouted interviews scheduled for mid-July.