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.


More on the DHS citizenship application backlog

The Times editorial page continues their strong advocacy for a more sensible American immigration policy with an editorial today calling on our nation's leaders to fix one piece of the broken immigration system - the astonishing backlog of citizenship applications of legal immigrants. They write:

About the only point of agreement on immigration in this country is that newcomers who play by the rules — fill out their forms, pay their fees and wait their turn — are welcome. But that great American dogma is being sorely tested by the inability of the federal government’s feeble citizenship agency to deal with a flood of applications that arose this summer.

The agency, Citizenship and Immigration Services, is telling legal immigrants that applications for citizenship and for residence visas filed after June 1 will take about 16 to 18 months to process. The agency was utterly unprepared for the surge, and so tens of thousands of Americans-in-waiting will have to keep on waiting. Many, gallingly, may have to sit out next November’s election, even though that civic act was what prompted many of them to apply in the first place...

After the collapse of the Senate immigration bill earlier this year, there has been pressure on Congress to do something about our broken and unacceptable immigration system. A good place to start would be for Congress to add additional one time funds to the Department of Homeland Security to clear this backlog when it returns next week.

It will be interesting to see how the GOP Presidential field handles this question at their Univision Debate on December 9th. For more on this issue check out the Washington Post's detailed account.

Cost of citizenship to rise

The LA Times has a great article about the proposed hike in costs for citizenship and permanent residency applications. The application fees would go from $330 to $595, and other hikes include those for immigrant entrepreneurs seeking investor green cards, who would face an increase from $475 to $2,850. Work permits would rise from $180 to $340, and those for family visas would increase from $190 to $355.

Why the increase? The article points out that Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said his agency faced a $1-billion shortfall for the next two fiscal years and was legally required to raise its own revenue to balance its books. In 2002, Congress gave it a five-year special appropriation of $460 million to eliminate a backlog that peaked at 3.8 million cases and to meet a presidential mandate to process applications within six months.

Problems at USCIS show us once again that the system is broken

The Washington Post reminds us of an extremely important problem emerging on the horizon for immigration services. If Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will find itself on the receiving end of an incredible surge of applications for legal residency. "Responsible for the administration of immigration and naturalization adjudication functions and establishing immigration services policies and priorities," the USCIS is already unable to manage its existing work. Adding the applications of 12 million undocumented immigrants and you've got even more chaos. Shockingly, outside reviews concur with those conducted internally by the USCIS:

A report released Dec. 20 by Homeland Security Inspector General Richard L. Skinner cited a long list of setbacks and concurred with internal USCIS reviews that the bureau "lacks the processing capacity, systems integration and project management resources needed to manage a potential increase in workloads.

So the USCIS knows it has problems, Homeland Security knows it has problems, and now we know it has problems, but who will fix it? [Enter the 110th Congress...?]

The immigration system is broken and a comprehensive solution is the only way it will get better. NDN knows this, the President knows it, and many others know it. We need Congress to step in so that the entities in charge of these applications are funded and managed properly so that people can have a path (albeit a long one) to citizenship.

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