- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2019

Homeland Security reached a five-year high in approvals of citizenship applications last year, and swore in more people as naturalized citizens as well, according to the new statistical report released Friday night.

Those numbers contradict the criticisms of congressional Democrats who had complained about backlogs building at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Homeland Security branch that handles legal immigration.

The new report also suggests that far from a crackdown, the government is processing more asylum-seeker petitions than any of the last four years. That included a 61 percent increase from 2017 to 2018 in affirmative asylum applications — though refugee interviews are down from more than 1250,000 in 2016, the last year under President Barack Obama, to just 26,400 in fiscal year 2018 under President Trump.

Still, when the whole panoply of humanitarian programs is considered — asylum, refugees, crime victim visas, Temporary Protected Status and screening for credible fear or reasonable fear of persecution — the numbers were 32 percent higher than fiscal year 2017. Credible fear and reasonable fear are first steps on the asylum track.

USCIS’s workload has become contentious in recent years, with immigrant-rights groups accusing the Trump administration of building a bureaucratic “wall” to deny people the chance to enter the U.S. legally. The accusation is a play on their disdain for Mr. Trump’s border wall intended to stop illegal immigration.

Hispanic Democrats in Congress say things are so bad that they requested — and have been granted — an investigation to be done by the Government Accountability Office. Rep. Joaquin Castro, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the case backlog is an example of “President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.”

Yet the backlog in citizenship applications, for example, exploded during the end of the Obama administration. The Washington Times, which tracked the explosion at the time, sought comment from immigrant-rights activists and lawmakers, including Democrats, but didn’t find many who blamed the Obama administration for the slow processing.

The new numbers from USCIS also detail some of the more hidden parts of the agency’s work, such as its efforts to weed out fraud in legal immigration applications.

Experts say fraud is rampant, but the agency has not released any major fraud assessments in years.

Still, the Fraud Detection and National Security division reported 149,3000 investigative leads or actions year — a 14 percent increase over 2017. That included 30,400 tips of fraud, 7,600 national security matters and nearly 17,000 public safety matters.

FDNS also reported screening social media in 11,700 cases.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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