We’ve reported extensively on the immigration backlog that’s put citizenship, green card, visa application, and removal proceedings months behind schedule. But now The Wall Street Journal reports that part of the backlog is a literal backlog: the physical paperwork needed to complete countless applications is stuck in a man-made limestone cave facility underneath Kansas City called the Federal Records Centers that has been closed due to COVID-19, and there are no immediate plans to reopen the center.
In total, there are 350,000 pending requests for immigration documents with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which oversees the Kansas City Federal Records Center. When the reason for the backlog was discovered, the USCIS admitted that operating restrictions at the Federal Records Centers were an issue, and added that they had offered staff to assist with retrieving files.
An Entire Department Run on Pen & Paper
The massive backlog is a symptom of an older problem with the immigration system: it’s woefully analog. The sheer physical space required to hold 80 million paper files is why NARA has citizenship files in the first place: their facility was the only one with enough space to hold them. Typically, USCIS staff would retrieve the files themselves, but NARA closed the Federal Records Centers to all but emergency situations.
After inquiries from reporters and immigration lawyers, NARA has finally agreed to increase staffing and allow USCIS workers to retrieve files from their facility. However, that leaves one more problem to solve: when will the USCIS digitize their archives so immigrants can get their applications filed faster?