USCIS, Biden’s unfinished business
Nearly nine million immigrants, most of them Hispanic, are still awaiting rulings from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Backlogs can be as long as two years triggering lengthy delays in the processing of the different licenses and permits needed to reside in the United States. Congressman Tony Cardenas’ proposal has generated great expectations. But also, great skepticism.
The Backlog and Transparency Act initiative, introduced by Congressman Tony Cardenas on October 25 seeks to “address the long delays faced by millions of immigrants who applied for an immigration benefit but have not received a decision.” Cardenas also believes that “the Inflation Reduction Act will benefit millions of Latinos,” which has also generated both optimism and doubts.
The situation is “very serious,” according to some immigration experts. The increase in delay times and the collapse of cases in recent years is due to the enormous number of asylum petitions applied for at the border with Mexico, “and will grow much more when Title 42 policy is eliminated,” they warn. This rule was activated in March 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed the “immediate removal of immigrants” for public health reasons. Last November 16, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., gave the government until December 21, to remove it.
For Nations Law Group attorney Nicolas Olano, an expert on immigration issues, “the situation of work permits, and other applications is directly related to the influx of migrants at the border with Mexico. With the increase of people, mostly families, entering the U.S. in recent years, the number of people applying for asylum has grown exponentially.”
“This, coupled with the downsizing that occurred during the Trump Administration and COVID-19 delays, has resulted in a serious problem for the Citizenship and Immigration Services, as the number of pending applications has become exorbitant.”
Olano believes that “given the above, it is clear that Congressman Tony Cardenas’ proposal does not tend to solve the real causes of the delays at USCIS. Setting deadlines will not increase the number of staff needed to process the growing number of pending applications. Forcing USCIS to produce more reports will reduce the number of staff needed to process cases and will not help reduce waiting times for customers. What USCIS needs right now is an influx of money from the government to hire more staff so it can properly serve its clientele: immigrants.
For Raul Pinto, also a lawyer and expert in immigration and government transparency at the American Emigration Council, based in Washington, D.C., “Cardenas’ proposal is very important.” Raul Pinto places the problem of delays at USCIS in dates prior to COVID-19. “The problems go back a long way. Donald Trump made a turnaround in permitting and licensing.”
It was like erecting an “administrative wall,” in addition to the physical wall on the border with Mexico. “Files that were normally processed in a month began to take a year and a half,” he says.
Raul Pinto also points to the pandemic as the origin of these administrative bottlenecks. “COVID contributed. But the causes of the delays have been diverse. During the Trump era, applications for immigration benefits for work, permanent residency, citizenship, etc., were greatly delayed because USCIS focused on helping the other immigration agencies, mainly Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), strictly enforce the law and deport petitioners.”
“For example,” Raul Pinto continues, “if someone applied for a green card and was denied, before Trump USCIS gave them a period of time to file pleadings, but with Trump denied applications were sent directly to deportation proceedings in the immigration courts.”
Now it is Joe Biden who presides over the country. It takes time to fix this situation, but the numbers of processing delays continue to climb.