- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Senate has confirmed the president’s nominee to lead the agency that naturalizes immigrants — just in time for him to face a federal court order to speed up the issuance of green cards.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff this week welcomed the confirmation of Emilio T. Gonzalez as the new director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security charged with overseeing all federal immigration services not related to law enforcement.

One of the first issues Mr. Gonzalez will face is a federal judge’s order to begin issuing green cards to about 6,000 people who have been awarded permanent resident status by the courts but have been denied documentation, in some cases for several years.

Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued the injunction Dec. 22 to enforce a ruling she made in August, when she found the Department of Homeland Security’s failure to issue documentation in a timely manner to be arbitrary and capricious.

She blamed the department’s “Byzantine organizational structure and antique computer systems” for the delays.

“You have a paper-records-based system where an official cannot take any action on a case unless the actual file is on his desk,” Javier Maldonado, one of the attorneys who won the injunction in a class-action lawsuit, told United Press International.

As a result, legal residents were left in limbo — unable to work legally or travel abroad — while officials attempted to gather the necessary documentation.

Spokesman Chris Bentley told UPI that the department could not comment on the matter because it is considering whether to appeal. But in court papers, the department has said that national security considerations mean officials should not have to meet any deadlines for issuing green cards.

Mr. Gonzalez also will oversee the redesign of the naturalization test — the politically sensitive task of deciding what those who want to become Americans need to know before they can be granted citizenship.

Mr. Chertoff said Tuesday that he was confident Mr. Gonzalez, who was confirmed Dec. 21, “will be a valuable asset and knowledgeable partner, leading [USCIS] in exciting new programs to improve customer service, enhance national security and eliminate the immigration caseload backlog.”

Mr. Gonzalez, 48, a Cuban-American, will replace Eduardo Aguirre, who left the agency in June to become the U.S. ambassador to Spain.

A 26-year veteran of the military, Mr. Gonzalez’s career has included postings to the U.S. embassies in El Salvador and Mexico. In 2002, he became director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the White House’s National Security Council, but he left in July 2003 to work for a Washington law firm.

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