The head of Homeland Security’s legal immigration agency warned employees they’re facing an “unprecedented” backlog of cases, just as Congress is aiming to add millions of new amnesty applications to their workload.
Ur Jaddou, the new director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said to staff in a Thursday email — which was seen by The Washington Times — that two-thirds of the agency’s 9 million pending cases have exceeded their target processing times, and she said something must be done to get would-be immigrants faster decisions.
“We all know firsthand that each pending case represents a person, a family, an opportunity, and a dream. It also represents a chance for our communities and our country to more fully benefit from all the talents and energy that immigrants have to offer,” she wrote.
She said she’s appointed Daniel Renaud — a longtime agency employee and spouse of Tracy Renaud, who served as the acting director before Ms. Jaddou was confirmed — to come up with ideas.
“This cannot be achieved simply by working ‘harder or faster.’ This moment requires us to make changes to our underlying processes to achieve new efficiencies while ensuring the integrity and security of the immigration system,” Ms. Jaddou wrote. “This is necessary for the good of our workforce, for those seeking immigration benefits, and for the country.”
Her alarm comes as the agency faces a massive new crush of applications, some invited by the Biden administration and still more on the way should Democrats on Capitol Hill follow through on plans to create an amnesty for perhaps 8 million immigrants who are in the country illegally.
Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, called Ms. Jaddou‘s memo “truly alarming.”
“She’s telling the USCIS personnel that the most important issue to her right now is that they start approving more cases, even faster. This comes at a time when the agency is broke and on the brink of collapse because of the flood of asylum seekers, and when it has to deal with the sudden arrival of tens of thousands of difficult-to-vet [Afghans],” Ms. Vaughan said. “The USCIS adjudicators must feel like they’re working for the ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice.’”
She said the timing of the memo was striking, coming just after House Democrats released their proposal to legalize 8 million immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally starting in six months. That workload would fall on USCIS.
Democrats included $2.8 billion in taxpayer money to help the agency.
The Times reported earlier this year on the backlog problem at USCIS, including a secret study completed last year that found the agency had an 11 million hour work backlog.
That was before the COVID-19 pandemic, which slammed the agency, nearly forcing furloughs and putting many cases on hold.
Previous USCIS directors told The Times the agency would need at least 18 months to prepare for a new amnesty if it wanted to do it right, including setting up the kinds of checks needed to weed out an anticipated wave of fraud.
That’s three times the deadline set in House Democrats’ plan, which cleared a committee earlier this week.
Even if amnesty plans don’t get approval by Congress, USCIS still faces a major workload increase under Biden administration plans.
The agency over the summer issued a proposal to shift border asylum cases currently heard by immigration judges at the Justice Department over to USCIS. That could add as many as 300,000 complicated applications per year, and require hiring as many as 4,647 new employees, the agency said in its published proposal.
USCIS is also part of the administration’s effort to welcome tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees, many of whom are likely to apply for asylum from the interior. Those cases are handled by USCIS.
And the Biden administration is eyeing a major increase in refugee admissions, which also increases demands on USCIS.
USCIS is supposed to be funded by fees paid by immigrants themselves, part of a decision that immigration shouldn’t burden the taxpayer. But the Biden administration this year has requested an infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars to work on the backlog.
Ms. Jaddou, in her email to employees, said the agency has seen numbers fluctuate before but the current backlog is unprecedented.