Immigration lawyers cite ‘crisis-level’ delays in US processing of immigrants
By Carlo Barbieri
Dealing with illegal immigrants flocking into the USA across the widely unprotected border with Mexico is a major headache for President Donald Trump and Democratic House leaders. But it’s not the chief executive’s only unresolved matter involving immigration rules.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association’s (AILA’s) analysis of recently published U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data reveals “crisis-level delays in the agency’s processing of applications and petitions for immigration benefits under the Trump Administration.”
“Throughout the nation,” the AILA report states, “these delays are harming families, vulnerable populations and US businesses that depend on timely adjudications.”
To make matters worse, since 2014, the processing intervals have been getting longer and longer, says the lawyer association’s scrutiny.
The lengthy report concludes by offering several “immediate steps [necessary] to address USCIS’s backlog and extreme processing delays immediately.” These include a revision of Trump’s immigration policies, strengthening of congressional oversight and an increase in USCIS transparency.
Through the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Congress established the organization now called the USCIS as “a service-oriented immigration benefits agency — one that adjudicates cases fairly and efficiently.” The Department of Homeland Security says the agency’s goal is “elimination of any case ‘backlog’ and the prevention of future backlogs.’”
As far back as April 2018, in a report to Congress, DHS identified a net backlog of about 2.3 million unprocessed cases within the USCIS at the end of 2017. The federal agency went on to say: “The net backlog at the end of 2017 was its highest on record.”
But the USCIS has a history of failing to fast track cases, says the report. “The fiscal year 2017’s net backlog more than doubled from 1.047 million at the conclusion of fiscal year 2016 – despite only a 4 percent increase in case receipts during that one-year period.”
Based on the data analyzed, AILA concluded that at the end of 2018:
- 74 percent of application and petition types equaled or exceeded record-long average processing times for the period covered.
- The processing times for 67 percent of form types had increases since FY 2017.
- The processing times for 79 percent of form types had increases since FY 2016, the last full fiscal year of the Barack Obama administration.
- The processing times for 94 percent of form types had increased since FY 2014 — the earliest year for which data is provided.
The report says increased delays “have undermined the ability of US companies to hire and retain essential workers and fill critical workforce gaps.”
“Lengthy processing delays exacerbate labor shortfalls and alienate talented candidates from seeking employment opportunities in the United States, thus compromising the sustainability and global competitiveness of American businesses.”
Immigration lawyers put the blame squarely on the chief executive, calling the president’s policy changes “misguided.” Their report says Trump’s modifications “have worsened the adjudication slowdowns… The evidence indicates that current policies are playing a key role in USCIS’s dramatically increased processing times.”
The report scolds the USCIS for overall inefficiency. “Viewed as a whole,” says the report, “USCIC’s national average processing time data reveals a legal immigration system in a tailspin. On a sweeping basis, the agency is
processing cases, including most high-volume form types, at a rate markedly slower that under the prior administration, even as overall case volume appears to have receded.”
Among its recommendations for correcting the situation, the AILA recommends:
- Rescinding policies that needlessly delay adjudications.
- Scaling down lengthy processing times and reconnecting USCIS with its congressional mandate.
- Congress should shed light on the extent of the USCIS backlog and case processing crisis.
- USCIS should “restore and expand services for accessing assistance with processing challenges.”
This situation is leading investors and their families, in the case of EB-5s, to be completely out of schedule and, consequently, taking apart their US entry project.
It is leading to insecurity and those who pay are the consultants and the lawyers who lose credibility: the delay is due to USCIS actions and government inaction, against which they cannot act.
One ends up with the impression of confusion on the part of the government, not seeing the difference between undocumented immigrants, who entered the country illegally, from those who invested and proposed to enter legally, but do not receive the due treatment.