The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) recently released a policy brief detailing the unprecedented processing delays at USCIS. As a practitioner, it has been increasingly apparent that USCIS under the Trump Administration has been implementing policies that waste resources and result in slower adjudications of petitions.  AILA’s policy brief supports this observation and details some very alarming statistics:

  • The net backlog of cases at the end of Fiscal Year 2017 was the highest on record, more than doubling from 1,047,751 cases to 2,330,143 cases – despite only a 4% increase in case receipts during that year and no significant personnel reductions at USCIS.
  • 74% of application and petition types equaled or exceeded record-long average processing times for the period examined.
  • Since the Trump Administration took office, processing times increased for 79% of form types filed with USCIS, and the average processing time per case increased by 46%.
  • In the last year alone, USCIS’ case volume declined 17%, but overall average case processing times increased by 19%.

The results of these delays profoundly impact our clients in many ways.  A delayed work authorization may mean a lost job opportunity.  Delayed advance parole may mean being unable to leave the United States for a family member’s illness or death. Delayed processing of some forms results in humanitarian relief for abandoned children, refugees, and domestic violence victims coming too late to be meaningful. These delays mean longer separations for spouses, parents and their children, and other relatives. No one wins when USCIS fails to do its job efficiently.

While processing delays are not an uncommon complaint from applicants, there are two factors that exacerbate the frustration. First, USCIS has adopted policies that intentionally slow down processing for no discernable benefit to applicants or the United States. USCIS no longer gives deference to prior adjudications for nonimmigrant, employment-based extension petitions involving the same employer and employee. It requires interviews for nearly all employment-based green cards. It has enacted policies that result in USCIS referring individuals to immigration court for de minimis immigration violations or when a petition is denied for a curable error. It is fixing problems that do not exist.

Second, it has been systematically removing tools for applicants to find out what is going on with their cases.  InfoPass is scheduled to be phased out by the end of 2020. The USCIS Service Center email boxes were eliminated as of January 21, 2019. The online case status option is usually incorrect or outdated, and customer service rarely knows anything specific about individual cases.

This is an untenable mess, and one that does not look to get any better under the Trump Administration, which has made bogging down immigration – legal and illegal – a cornerstone of its policy agenda.

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