Hundreds of thousands of people may not be able to vote in next year's US presidential election because of a huge citizenship application backlog.
Citizenship applications surged this year before a fee rise
Hispanic leaders voiced concern over the delays at the US immigration department, which said it had not expected the paperwork mountain.
Officials said applications had surged before a July administration fee rise.
The backlog could take 18 months to resolve, leaving many applicants unable to vote in the November 2008 election.
The delays will affect those who filed citizenship applications after 1 June with the Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, said officials.
'No political motivation'
The agency says becoming a US citizen usually takes about seven months, but the current paperwork backlog could take between 15 and 18 months to work through.
"We are going to process these cases as responsibly and as quickly as we can, but we're not focused on any of the election cycle," Michael Aytes, associate director of the agency, told the Washington Post.
For the fiscal year ending 30 September 2007, a total of 7.7m applications were filed, compared with 6.3m during the previous fiscal year, the agency said.
The paperwork spiked in the months before fees for citizenship applications almost doubled to $595 (£290) and nearly tripled for legal residency applications to $930 (£450).
"I would hope there's not a political motivation because citizenship is too valuable for partisan mischief," Arturo Vargas, of the National Association for Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, told the Associated Press news agency.
Strong Republican opposition to immigration reform bills this year infuriated many Hispanics, who tend to vote Democrat and who made up the majority of US immigrants in 2006.