On a daily basis, our New Jersey immigration attorneys are hearing from clients and business owners regarding delays at USCIS. These ballooning delays leave families—including families with U.S. citizen spouses and children—in financial distress, expose vulnerable protection seekers to danger, and threaten the viability of American companies. Yet rather than relieving the logjam, USCIS has made it worse with policies that inhibit efficiency and prioritize immigration enforcement over the administration of legal immigration benefits. Such measures act as bricks in the Trump administration’s “invisible wall” curbing legal immigration in the United States. We call on USCIS to immediately address and resolve these delays and enhance transparency by providing more information to the public.
USCIS, the agency who processes all immigration petitions, reported that for fiscal year 2018 alone, USCIS processed and adjudicated over 8 million applications. That’s 10% more than last year and 30% higher than the last 5 years. Based upon a study of the data by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, 74% of the applications and petitions have experienced significant delays. USCIS has reported in FY 2018 they had a backlog of 2.4 million cases awaiting adjudication worldwide, which is reported to be 43% of the agency’s total pending inventory of new cases or 5.7 million applications.
The Agency Is in a “Tailspin”
During a hearing before the House of Representatives in July of 2019, the Director of USCIS, then Donald Neufield, reported that the reason for the backlogs was the huge growth USCIS has experienced in case receipts, especially due to the election year, new policy announcements, and a surge of filings before announced fee increases. He reported that the agency was trying to reduce the backlogs through a series of initiatives. They reportedly have hired new staff despite a limitation of funding, expanded facilities, and are working to improve efficiencies. He also noted that the delays were also enhanced due to new security and background checks enacted after 9/11. The Director acknowledged that there is no quick and easy fix, but he claimed USCIS was commitment to address the delays during the congressional hearing.
The above is evidence that the legal immigration system is in a “tailspin.” The agency is processing cases at a rate much slower than ever before, and USCIS is failing its Congressional mandate and failing to serve the public as charged. Misguided policy changes under the current administration have also worsened the delays and are playing a key role in the dramatic increase in processing delays. The delays cause extreme consequences and stress for all parties involved in the process.
Some of the policy changes are as follows:
- 2017 policy that rescinded longstanding guidance that gave deference to prior employment bases determinations involving the same employer
- Trump’s administration policy that overhauled refugee cases
- USCIS requirement for in-person interviews for employment-based green cards
- Trump’s “extreme vetting” security requirement
- New “Notice to Appear” policy to place more individuals into deportation
- New foreign student and exchange visitor “no tolerance” policy for the most minor of violations
- Deportation traps for spouses who appear in I-130 interviews
- Elimination of online infopass scheduling to discuss processing delays and other problems
- Elimination of USCIS service center email inboxes for case specific questions
These policies have changes USCIS’s mission from a service-oriented benefit agency to a third immigration enforcement agency. We urge USCIS to rescind these “invisible wall” policies, strengthen Congressional oversight and heighten transparency. The need for these corrective measures is urgent: as delays persist, families suffer and businesses fall behind.