Bill introduced in US House to tackle growing immigration processing delays

MUMBAI: US Congressman, Tony Cárdenas, has on October 25, introduced a bill – the Case Backlog Transparency and Accountability Act to address the significant immigration related processing backlogs. It seeks to set new reporting requirements for The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), to determine the reasons for the processing delays and facilitate the finding of potential solutions.
USCIS will have to periodically inform the US Congress of the number of cases pending, the average processing time for each type of immigration benefit adjudicated by the immigration agency. It also requires the USCIS and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to analyse the backlog’s causes and propose ideas to cut down on the delays.
TOI has frequently reported on the processing delays and the hardship it causes to the Indian diaspora in the US. For instance, lack of timely adjudication for renewal of employment authorisation document (EAD) applications has resulted in many spouses of H-1B workers losing their jobs or work opportunities.
“The extreme immigration backlog at USCIS is leaving countless individuals in limbo,” said Congressman Cárdenas. “A reporting system will improve transparency and help USCIS find the root cause of these processing delays. My hope is that accountability and greater awareness of what isn’t working at USCIS will lead to solutions in the future.”
Between 2015 and 2020, the number of cases awaiting a decision at USCIS grew from 3.2 to 5.8 million. According to USCIS’s own data, processing times are increasing, leaving applicants waiting for a decision for well over seven months for most types of immigration benefit applications.
The legislation is endorsed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA).
“For years, the families, vulnerable individuals, and US businesses that our more than 16,000 members regularly represent have suffered devastating consequences from USCIS’s processing delays,” said American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Executive Director Benjamin Johnson. “Families have been separated, businesses have lost key employees, and vulnerable individuals remain in jeopardy. We commend Representative Cardenas for remaining steadfast in holding USCIS accountable. This bill will demand that USCIS review and analyze the causes of the ever-growing immigration case backlog and ensure efficient and effective solutions are put in place for its customers.”
“USCIS has taken important steps to increase efficiency and reduce burdens in our immigration system, but there is significant work to be done to fully address the growing needs, especially addressing the backlog”, said Angelica Salas, Executive Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA).“The Case Backlog and Transparency Act of 2022, will provide USCIS with additional tools to reduce the current backlog and prevent future ones. It will also increase transparency and predictability to ensure that everyone has timely access to fair and quality immigration services.”
“The Case Backlog Transparency and Accountability Act of 2022 represents a positive step towards understanding the causes of USCIS backlogs and having the public reporting that is necessary to increase accountability and transparency,” said Nicole Melaku, executive director of the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA). “For years, NPNA has called for USCIS to reduce backlogs and processing delays so that families and individuals do not have to wait unnecessarily for their applications to be processed. We commend this Act for proposing common sense solutions, where Congress and USCIS can work together to address this issue and enhance efficiency and fairness.”
Raul Pinto, Senior Staff Attorney at the American Immigration Council, a Washington-based think-tank points out that while delays in adjudication have plagued USCIS for years, the problem grew as the agency shifted its focus during the Trump administration from granting benefits to enforcement, weaponizing these delays to restrict immigration whenever possible. USCIS was also heavily impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic, which limited the workforce and access to files, in certain cases.
“The bill would bring much needed accountability to USCIS through the enactment of transparency measures. For example, Cardenas’s proposal would require the agency to issue annual reports not only on the backlog data, but also on the agency’s existing efforts to ameliorate the backlogs, detailed plans to eliminate the backlogs, and measures to prevent future backlogs. The bill also would require USCIS to publish reports on the agency’s website,” adds Pinto.

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