U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may be “failing to fulfill” its most basic duties, according to House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland).
The increasingly long delays in the processing of immigration cases, applications, and petitions is approaching – or has already reached – a crisis point. These delays harm visa holders and those who are still seeking to acquire a U.S. visa, their families, and their U.S.-based employers.
Why is the U.S. immigration system so convoluted and problematic? Why are the waiting periods so long and the backlogs so massive? Is there
WHAT STATISTICS SHOW THE IMMIGRATION SYSTEM IS FACING A CRISIS?
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) tells us that statistics recently published by USCIS indicate
– The average amount of time that it takes to process an immigration case increased by 46 percent
– USCIS processed 94 percent of its requests and petitions – from green cards for immediate relatives to visas for victims of human trafficking – more slowly in
– USCIS figures show that a “net” backlog of more than 2.3 million cases remained unresolved at the end of
WHY WAS USCIS ORIGINALLY ESTABLISHED?
Congress created USCIS as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to help immigrants obtain visas, employment authorization, green cards, citizenship, humanitarian protection, and other key benefits. USCIS also helps U.S.-based employers fill critical gaps in their workforces.
Lawmakers intended for the agency to streamline the immigration system and to expedite immigration requests, applications, and petitions fairly and efficiently. The data, however, shows that USCIS is now processing requests and petitions at an unacceptable, increasingly slow pace.
Exceedingly lengthy processing times can place families in financial hardship circumstances, can expose to danger those who are fleeing persecution, and can threaten the operations and profitability of U.S.-based businesses.
HOW IS THE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN IMPACTING IMMIGRATION COURTS?
The recent 35-day government shutdown – and the prospect of an even lengthier shutdown – has had a “devastating impact” on the nation’s immigration courts, according to Judge Dana Leigh Marks, the former president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.
An immigration judge hears over 1,500 cases a year, or three times the caseload of other federal judges. Judge Marks told PBS NewsHour, “I have a pending caseload of over 4,000 cases … It could be another three or four years before those people can expect hearings on their cases.”
The judge explained, “It is a very complicated assessment to determine whether or not someone is qualified for asylum … Congress has decided that these people are entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge … that’s what international treaties that we are signatories of require …”
As you may imagine, underfunding by Congress is at the root of the problem. Judge Marks adds, “the reason that there are delays in our system is simply because we have been underfunded and ignored for so long. The system does work, when it receives the proper funding.”
While the backlog in the immigration courts has reached a crisis level, it is only one part of the overall immigration backlog crisis.
WHICH IMMIGRATION FORMS ARE TAKING LONGER TO PROCESS?
From fiscal year 2017 through fiscal year 2018, processing time for these four high-volume immigration forms increased by more than 25 percent:
– I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
– N-400, Application for Naturalization
– I-131, Application for Travel Document (advance parole)
– I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (family-based)
WILL CONGRESS INVESTIGATE THE CRISIS?
According to NBC, in a February 6 letter to USCIS Ombudsman Julie Kirchner, Representative Cummings said that he has received “troubling reports” about the backlogs in cases that involve humanitarian matters like asylum, refugee, and special immigrant visa assistance requests.
The letter from Representative Cummings asks USCIS to provide the House Oversight Committee with a number of documents in order “to investigate the accuracy of these reports.”
AILA insists that measures must be taken immediately to address the processing crisis at USCIS. For example, AILA suggests that USCIS should cancel some of the policies established within the past two years that seem to be exacerbating the crisis.
“Instead of relieving the logjam,” AILA said in a January 29 statement, “USCIS exacerbates it with policies that inhibit efficiency and prioritize immigration enforcement over the administration.”
“Viewed as a whole, USCIS’s national average processing time data reveals a legal immigration system in a tailspin.” The statement concludes that “USCIS is failing its congressional mandate and disserving the public.”
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO DEAL WITH THE IMMIGRATION LOGJAM?
The backlog problem is not going away. Massive reforms – that may take many years – are badly needed. For anyone who deals with USCIS, standing on solid legal ground and having sound legal advice is the best strategy.
A Las Vegas immigration attorney can advise you and help you with visa petitions and other immigration documents, prepare you for interviews, and accompany you to immigration court if necessary.
If you’re a U.S.-based employer with concerns about how the immigration logjam may impact your company’s operations, a qualified immigration attorney can review your situation and provide the personalized advice and guidance you need.
WHEN SHOULD YOU SEEK A LAS VEGAS IMMIGRATION LAW FIRM’S HELP?
While a good immigration lawyer – in most instances – cannot make the system move faster for you, what a good attorney can do is to ensure that no misunderstandings or paperwork mistakes unnecessarily delay the resolution of your immigration matter even more.
Whether you’re applying for an investor visa, trying to acquire a work visa or a family visa, or if you have any other matter pending before the immigration authorities, the advice, services, and insights that an immigration attorney can provide are invaluable and indispensable.
If you’re an international investor, trader, executive, or student; if you want to reunite your family in the U.S.; or if you’re a U.S.-based employer seeking work visas, take your immigration matter to an experienced U.S. immigration lawyer as quickly as possible. That is your right.