National Law Review: “Slow Immigration Processing Times Draw Criticism and Questions.”

by Joseph McKeown

Processing times for immigration cases have dramatically increased in the last few years to “crisis levels under the Trump Administration,” according to an American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) policy brief. These delays in some cases have caused gaps in work authorization and loss of employment, and the same AILA brief notes that the “ballooning delays leave families—including families with US citizen spouses and children—in financial distress, expose protection-seekers to potential harm by bad actors, and threaten the viability of American companies facing workforce gaps.”

According to the 2018 Homeland Security Report, there was a net backlog of 2.3 million cases at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, double the figure from FY 2016. Indeed, wait times for citizenship applications in particular is now almost twice as long as it was two years ago, currently a ten-month average. The backlog has prompted more than eighty Democratic members of the House of Representatives, acting in their oversight capacity, to send a letter to USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna noting their “grave concerns” about the increasing delays as well as requesting that the backlog be reduced and that the director provide answers to key questions about “extreme vetting” and USCIS operations in regards to backlogs. The letter signed by the Congress members also probes whether USCIS is purposefully causing the delays:

Clearly, policy changes implemented by the administration in 2017 and 2018 have increasingly shifted the agency away from its service-oriented mission. Rather than continuing to seek ways to simplify and streamline its benefit-delivery system, USCIS now appears more focused on erecting barriers to the benefits it administers, including by significantly delaying adjudications.

Analysis released this month by Boundless Immigration, a Seattle-based start-up addressing immigration issues and offering Green Card and citizenship support to immigrants, expresses their deep concern over these national processing and adjudication trends. Not only has the likelihood that a citizenship application will be denied risen slightly over the past few years, processing times and success rates can vary widely according to geographic location. For example, according to the analysis, the three government offices handling citizenship applications most efficiently are in Cleveland, Ohio, Providence, Rhode Island, and Raleigh, North Carolina, while the three government offices handling citizenship applications least efficiently are in St. Paul, Minnesota, Miami, Florida, and Houston, Texas. (The maximum wait time in the St. Paul office is now almost two years.) The application delays are detrimental for immigrants (and also local economies and the US government) since reports on naturalization found that if all eligible immigrant residents were to naturalize, their aggregate income would increase by $5.7 billion. This in turn yields an increase in homeownership by over 45,000 people, and an increase in tax revenue of $2 billion.

The backlogs seem to be in line with the new USCIS mission statement, issued in February 2018, by Director L. Francis Cissna, which echoes President Trump’s emphasis on enforcement and strict scrutiny and extreme vetting, with language noting that USICS would now make sure that benefits are not provided to those who do not qualify or those who “would do us harm[.]” Doug Rand, co-founder and President of Boundless Immigration, says the Trump administration “has infused the entire legal immigration system with skepticism” and notes, specifically in regards to citizenship applications, that “naturalization should be different: These people are already here legally; they want to be citizens to better assimilate.