NDN Blog

Clearing the backlog

Senators Kennedy, Schumer, and Leahy sent a fantastic letter to Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, urging action on the backlog of pending naturalization applications at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a subject we've written on quite a bit here on the blog.

From the press release:

The senators are asking for information from the USCIS, specifically annual reports on immigration functions, including the average processing period of applications and detailing the quantity of backlogged applications and petitions, and the Department of Homeland Security's estimate of the cost of clearing the application backlog by the end of FY 2008.

Read the full letter here.

Kennedy, Schumer, Leahy letter to Chertoff on USCIS backlog

(Via Senator Kennedy's press release. You can also read a pdf of the letter, which includes the requests for information, on our website.)

March 19, 2008

Secretary Michael Chertoff
Department of Homeland Security
20 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20529

Dear Secretary Chertoff:

We are deeply troubled by the serious backlog of naturalization applications pending adjudication at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Last year, USCIS announced it would increase the naturalization fee by 80% from $330 to $595 (if the biometrics fee increase is included, the total fee increase is from $400 to $675, or 69%). As a result, almost a million and a half immigrants applied for naturalization before the increase went into effect. The agency justified the unprecedented fee increase by arguing that it would solve many agency problems and pay for a 20% efficiency improvement in adjudicating naturalization applications. At the time, USCIS reported that the average processing time for naturalization was 5.57 months, just under its stated six-month goal.

However, the USCIS recently announced that it will take 14-16 months to process naturalization applications filed after June 2007. In other words, for naturalization applications filed after the fee increase, USCIS is now charging almost twice as much for a service that takes twice as long.

The agency has responded to previous Congressional inquiries on this issue by stating that it could not have foreseen this surge in applications. We do not find that argument persuasive. Every previous naturalization fee increase has had the same effect. Preceding each of the naturalization fee increases in 1998, 2002 and 2004, a large surge in applications took place. It should have come as no surprise that the agency received 1.4 million naturalization applications in FY 2007, nearly double the volume received in the previous fiscal year. Despite knowledge that the fee increase would bring a surge in applications, the agency apparently did nothing to prepare for it. Clearly, a work plan should have been put in place well before the fee increase was implemented.

We understand that USCIS is now preparing a response plan to deal with the backlog. The agency has begun to hire an additional 1,500 employees, of whom 723 are adjudicators. To date, 580 have been hired, including 274 adjudicators. We also are aware that the office of Personnel Management, on request of USCIS, has extended USCIS temporary authority to rehire retired annuitants to assist in clearing the backlog. We commend these efforts, but we understand that the agency does not believe they will have an impact soon enough to ensure that most of the applicants who filed in FY 2007 will become U.S. citizens in FY 2008.

We recognize that the FBI name check verification process is delaying approximately 145,000 naturalization applications. But the FBI cannot be held responsible for the vast majority of the naturalization applications backlog. In fact, according to the USCIS Production Update Reports, USCIS does not include applications currently held by the FBI in the official count of its backlog.

It has also recently come to our attention that last year, USCIS experienced a so-called "front log," in which the agency did not immediately process many naturalization applications received by mail and failed to send applicants a receipt confirmation for several months. Thus, the agency delayed the date on which the applicant was entered in the USCIS system to begin the adjudication process. We are concerned about this problem, and we wish to learn more about what occurred last year and what steps the agency has taken to eliminate the front log.

In order to fully understand the scope of the USCIS backlog and front log problems, we request further information. Our specific requests are contained in the attachment. The agency's responses will help us fully understand the scope of the backlog and front log problem and identify the areas where the agency needs the most assistance in alleviating these delays. It will be especially helpful to the Committee to have this information prior to your appearance before the Committee on April 2, 2008 and so we ask that you return the information by March 28, 2008.

We also ask that you report to the Committee on a bi-weekly basis from this time forward on the progress made in the adjudication of naturalization applications, including how many cases have been completed during each two-week period and how many are still pending, including the dates of submission of the pending cases.

We appreciate your assistance with this request, and we ask you to coordinate your responses with Wendy Young, Chief Counsel for Immigration Policy, Subcommittee on Immigration (202) 224-7878; wendy_young@judicicary-dem.senate.gov, Matt Virkstis, Counsel, Judiciary Committee (202) 224-7703; matthew_virkstis@judiciary-dem.senate.gov, and Sandra Gallardo, Senior Counsel, Oversight and Investigations (202) 224-3112; Sandra_gallardo@help.senate.gov. With respect and appreciation, and we would be grateful for your prompt consideration of our request.


Patrick J. Leahy
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary

Edward M. Kennedy
Chairman, Subcommittee on Immigration Refugees and Border Security

Charles E. Schumer
Chairman, Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts

Kos on former NDNer, Joe Garcia

Markos has a good profile on former NDNer, Joe Garcia on his blog. Be sure to check it out.

Johnny messed up

John McCain must hate video

He's no Kip Dynamite, because if there's one thing John McCain must find inconvenient it is modern technology. Now I first thought Rudy would be the candidate that would grow to dislike YouTube and video in general, but it seems that the torch has now been passed to Senator McCain. From CBS News:

Standing with two of his Senate colleagues at the Citadel, a set of ancient ruins in downtown Amman, McCain told reporters that he is concerned about Iran's influence in Iraq and cited a recently discovered cache of weapons that he said could be particularly lethal in being used to target Americans in the country. 

"We continue to be concerned about Iranian [operatives] taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back," he said in comments after meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II on Tuesday afternoon.

Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it is "common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran; that's well known. And it's unfortunate."

A few moments later, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in his ear. McCain then said, "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda."

The United States has long asserted that elements of Iran's security forces have been training and supplying weapons to Iraq's Shiite militias. Iran is an overwhelmingly Shiite country whose government has applauded the emergence of a Shiite-led government in Iraq but has denied supporting Shiite militias inside Iraq.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a predominantly Sunni militant group that has been blamed for deadly mass killings of Shiites and attacks on U.S. forces. Some Sunni extremists consider Shiites to be heretics and therefore legitimate targets of attack. The schism between Islam's Sunni and Shiite sects grw out of a dispute over the leadership of the faithful after the death of the prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632. 

Now in fairness, John McCain deserves respect. I'm sure he's worn out from the rigors of the campaign, but he's handing out fodder for anyone who wants to discredit him. And given his tendency to revert back to the foreign policy/national security narrative (since he doesn't know much about the economy), mix-ups like these don't give him much ground on which to stand. They will also make it difficult for him to separate himself from the President, which he has tried to do by emphasizing his criticism over the mismanagement of the War.

The DNC's spokeswoman, Karen Finney, immediately saw the opening in McCain's misstep, saying:

After eight years of the Bush Administration's incompetence in Iraq, McCain's comments don't give the American people a reason to believe that he can be trusted to offer a clear way forward...

Or a different path. Later in the CBS article, McCain meets with Israeli President Shimon Peres, who told McCain that "Israel needs a partner in achieving peace with the Palestinians." He went further:

"The situation among the Palestinians, they are divided, alas, which makes
them weak," Peres said. "And their weakness is our weakness because we [need a] partner."

As Simon has stated, the Bush legacy in the Middle East is not one we want to continue. If McCain continues to mix up, particularly on video where it is available for all to see and on topics on which he prides himself, I'd be interested to see how he responds to the claim that he really wouldn't be offering anything different from the current administration with regard to foreign policy.

Changing transportation as we know it: Shai Agassi

As I noted the other day, we'll be posting pictures, video and transcripts from our event right here on the blog for all to see. First up is the video of Shai Agassi, Founder and CEO of Project Better Place. For more on Shai and his bold initiative, check out Peter Leyden's profile of him from a few days ago. His remarks were quite something, so make sure to set aside twenty minutes or so to watch them below:

Not so, Tancredo

A Republican poll of independent and GOP voters in Tom Tancredo's congressional district portrays a different view on immigration than the one Mister 1 percent represented. From the Denver Post:

An internal Republican poll that examined the attitudes of independent and GOP voters in the district - a copy of which was obtained by The Denver Post - found opinions vastly at odds with that conventional wisdom.

They overwhelmingly support a guest worker program, reject the idea that most illegal immigrants should be deported, and even support the idea of amnesty, a dirty word for politicians of any stripe, but especially for the four Republican candidates now running for Tancredo's seat.

Coming from what nationally has been thought of as a "symbolic district" on the issue, the poll has been circulating in party circles for weeks. It has helped fuel a debate within the GOP about how powerfully the issue will play for Republicans in 2008 races - and how hard a line the GOP candidates should actually take.

It comes just as Latino Republican leaders in the state have cast dire warnings in recent weeks that overheated rhetoric on immigration risks alienating Latino voters, and as some state legislators have pushed the party to take even a harder line.

A great conference!

We'd like to thank the hundreds of people who participated in our "A Moment of Transformation?" conference yesterday. It was a refreshing and high-level discussion about the great challenges facing the nation, and the beginning of a very intense period of work for us here at NDN.

Check back here for photos of the event, as well as video and transcripts of the major sessions from the conference.

For those that joined us we'd love to hear from you. Either leave a comment here or email Tracy Leaman directly at tleaman@ndn.org.

Thanks again!

Come talk about the great challenges facing America

Tomorrow at 10:00am, the NDN community will be gathering for a day-long conference to take an in-depth look at some of the most urgent challenges facing America and the world. Guiding us through this discussion will be some of the nation's leading thinkers. We will look at what an American foreign policy after Bush could look like; attempt to better understand the rise of China; hear from one of the world's most respected experts on climate change; listen to one of the world's most accomplished entrepreneurs discuss his new venture to bring electric cars to the world; take a serious look at how to make a carbon tax work here in the United States; marvel at the possibilities of the new millennial generation, the largest generation in American history; receive a preview of Dr. Robert Shapiro's new book, Futurecast, which makes provocative and powerful arguments about how geopolitics and globalization will play out over the next 15 years; and end it all with a freewheeling discussion with some of America's most thoughtful journalists.

To learn more about some of tomorrow's compelling speakers, review these profiles of Elaine Kamarck, Shai Agassi, Orville Schell, and Amory Lovins. Also come hear Derek Chollet and Jim Goldgeier, co-authors of a great new foreign policy book; Morley Winograd, co-authors of a great book on the millennial generation; Matt Bai of the New York Times Magazine; Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post; John Heilemann of the New York Magazine; and Simon Rosenberg, Peter Leyden, and Dr. Robert Shapiro of NDN.

All of our speakers will be addressing the question we've heard raised throughout this campaign - is America in a transformational moment? A defining moment? A moment when one era ends and another begins? The idea that we are entering a new era of politics in the United States is one we've covered in a recent article, "The 50-Year Strategy".

I hope you will take the time to join us for what is going to be a very exciting event at the Capital Hilton, 1001 16th Street NW, here in Washington, DC. Registration is free. The doors open at 9am and the program begins promptly at 10 am. We will end at 6pm, and retire for a reception to kick back and talk about it all. So please join us, bring your friends and colleagues, and spend time learning more and discussing the events of the day. For bios of the speakers or to RSVP, please visit our website. Below is the final schedule:

09:30 AM - Breakfast

10:15 AM - Welcome by Simon Rosenberg, President and Founder, NDN

10:25 AM - Opening Remarks by Peter Leyden, Director, New Politics Institute

10:40 AM - Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier, co-authors,
                    America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11

11:30 AM - Shai Agassi, Founder and CEO, Project Better Place

12:10 PM - Lunch

12:25 PM - Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, co-authors,
                    Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics

01:30 PM - Dr. Robert J. Shapiro, Chair, NDN's Globalization Initiative and author of Futurecast

02:20 AM - Orville Schell, Director, the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society

03:10 PM - Elaine Kamarck, soon to be co-chair of the Climate Task Force

04:00 PM - Amory Lovins, Cofounder, Chairman, and Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute

04:50 PM - Panel with Matt Bai of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Ruth Marcus of the
                    Washington Post
, and John Heilemann of New York Magazine

06:10 PM - Cocktail reception

The Virtuous Cycle of Participation

It is a phrase that finds itself being uttered by Senator Hillary Clinton in debates and speeches so much that her audience concurrently recites it: "Join us in this campaign. Go to www.hillaryclinton.com." And it is significant because it shows at least an acknowledgement of what has been going on in the way politics is oriented.

There are the top-down campaigns, which, as Simon has said, are characterized by the 30-second ad, the stop on the tarmac, and the 200 volunteers at headquarters; and then there are the bottom-up campaigns, characterized by new tools that allow organizations to be decentralized in key ways to maximize its reach.

Each is enabled and defined - to various degrees - by what Simon has described as the virtuous cycle of participation.

Tim Dickinson's fantastic piece in Rolling Stone, "The Machinery of Hope", details what this cycle looks like through the lense of the Obama campaign. Essentially, people sign up to get involved and find themselves empowered to take leadership roles by using new tools available to them on-line. Then they bring in more people. That leads to more money. What you see in the end is a larger, stronger organization, particularly at the ground level. As Simon says in the piece:

"That's the magic of what they've done," says Simon Rosenberg, president of the Democratic think tank NDN. "They've married the incredibly powerful online community they built with real on-the-ground field operations. We've never seen anything like this before in American political history."

It's true. All we have to build on is the Dean legacy, which proved to be quite an innovative force in and of itself in 2004. Before I get ahead of myself let me be clear: any candidate of any party can take this approach. In fact, as Joe Trippi said at a recent NDN event, the Dean campaign found its inspiration from John McCain's race in 2000. Furthermore, what about Ron Paul!

Yet look at where we are. Thus far in the 2008 presidential campaign especially, you see organizations being built, funded and strengthened by this cycle of participation. Average citizens are brought into the process in ways we've never seen before. Yet the Democrats are the ones benefiting the most. They have consistently seen record turnout, with single candidates gaining more support in certain states than the GOP candidates combined. You also see a shift in party ID. Then there's the money. This is too simple. Barack Obama: $55 million. Hillary Clinton: $35 million. John McCain: $12 million? And that’s from February alone.

So it is clear that the Democrats on the whole are much better aligned with this politics. Some candidates have some catching up to do, though. Jose Antonio Vargas touched on this in his piece from the Washington Post, quoting Simon saying:

"The Clinton campaign missed the zeitgeist of the moment," Rosenberg says, "and they underestimated the possible reach of Obama's support, and they're paying for it."

While he focused more on the Democratic candidates instead of politics as a whole, David Brooks could be right in saying that we are at a defining moment. Applying the cycle of participation as an indictor of who heads into that moment the strongest, I'd say the advantage goes to the Democrats. And they aren’t stopping while ahead. Remember: “Go to www.hillaryclinton.com”...

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