A USCIS document provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee details exactly which categories of legal immigrants were disadvantaged by the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the amnesty for the so-called illegal alien "Dreamers". The document reveals that processing of most applications for legal immigration benefits, including the highest priority family categories, such as spouses of U.S. citizens, were de-emphasized so that the agency could instead focus on approving the DACA applications.
The committee asked USCIS to provide any instructions on the prioritization of categories of applications resulting from the diversion of resources and staff to process DACA applications. The agency responded, in part:
Whenever USCIS receives a sudden increase in workload, a detailed analysis of the services requested is performed. Considering the need to provide special emphasis to certain form types, USCIS is able to make initial risk-based resource allocation decisions so that all USCIS customers are given the attention and service they deserve. (Emphasis added.)
Apparently some USCIS "customers" are more deserving than others. According to a chart provided, the following types of applicants are considered deserving of "special emphasis" during the DACA adjudication period:
- Employers asking for temporary workers (with or without paying the premium processing fee);
- Applicants for advance parole (a travel document only needed by illegal aliens with temporary status);
- Refugees needing a travel document;
- Employers sponsoring immigrant workers;
- U.S. parents adopting children from overseas;
- Applicants for work permits (DACA applicants, other illegal aliens, and temporary visitors)
- Military naturalization applicants
All other types of applications were considered not deserving of special emphasis. These applications had to wait longer for processing, even though the fees were the same as ever (actually higher, since they were just raised in 2010). They included all family-based immigrant petitions and applications, refugee and asylee green cards, relatives of refugees and asylees, applicants for temporary protected status, victims of human trafficking, crime victims, immigrants seeking to naturalize, and anyone needing a replacement document.
The de-prioritization of the family cases resulted in very long, truly unacceptable, waiting times for these applicants. Waiting times for U.S. citizens seeking to sponsor a spouse stretched to 15 months in some parts of the country in 2013, nearly three times the waiting time that USCIS claimed was its goal (five months, which is not exactly what most people would consider prompt service considering that the fee just for the first step is $420).
As outlined in the USCIS document and other reports, the agency struggled to balance its immense existing workload of applicants with its emphasis on processing the DACA applicants in particular. In early 2012, they moved to centralize processing of immediate family petitions, then de-centralized processing, then finally partially centralized these cases by the fall of 2013. At one point, when USCIS tried to centralize processing at the National Benefits Center in Missouri, it experienced "hiring difficulties" that it attributed to "general deficiencies within the local employment market". No DACA or other adjudicators were diverted to take up this workload. Instead, the petitions for spouses and parents of U.S. citizens were simply allowed to pile up. By the end of June 2013, USCIS reported that there were 853,737 family petitions stacked up awaiting adjudication.
Meanwhile, the DACA program was chugging along, approving approximately 40,000 applications per month, with typical waiting times of two to four months. In 2013 alone USCIS processed more than 480,000 DACA applications.
The delays for hundreds of thousands of family-based legal immigrants and other types of applicants caused by the president's amnesty for the Dreamers have been hugely disruptive to some lives. For family-based applicants, their lives are on hold while waiting for USCIS to get to their cases. For naturalization applicants, it could mean losing out on the opportunity to vote.
An American man from Alabama, Kevin Morgan, became so frustrated at the slow service and apparent ineptitude at USCIS in processing his wife's simple renewal of her green card that he made a YouTube video about their Kafkaesque experience. His wife applied in person for her 10-year green card renewal on March 10, 2014, and paid the fee of $450. It took seven months for USCIS to approve it and put it in the mail. The Morgans never received it. To make a long and confounding story short, after much back-and-forthing, conflicting information, inappropriate instructions, and literally hours on hold on the phone, USCIS to this day refuses to issue a replacement renewal green card unless the Morgans pay another $450, even though the agency has conceded that the couple never received the first one that was sent. I hope that Mrs. Morgan does not need to show her card for employment or to get a driver's license or for any other situation where she has to prove her legal status, because she can't at the moment.
It really should not be all that difficult for USCIS to check her biometrics and just issue the woman another darn card, for goodness sake, without gouging for another $450. USCIS mumbled something to the Morgans at one point about how it couldn't do that because of possible fraud, but the truth is that, according to the fraud assessments done several years ago, there actually isn't much fraud that occurs in connection with green card renewals, thanks to the biometrics.
If Mrs. Morgan is forced to submit yet another renewal application, it will take USCIS another eight months to process it, according to the agency's website. Meanwhile, USCIS states that it is processing work permits and travel documents (which are primarily needed by illegal aliens seeking to launder their status) in three months' time. There can be no question that illegal aliens (followed by employers seeking foreign workers) are the priority for USCIS these days, not Americans and legal immigrants.