tv House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on Immigration Policy and Processing... CSPAN July 19, 2019 8:03pm-10:22pm EDT
the committee on immigration citizenship is in order. we are here today to explore an aspect of our immigration system that generally uses far less attention than community read. migration flow from central america. mistreatment of families at the border. is a very serious issue. they will continue to examine them. the current situation must not be overlooked. record high case backlogs and policy changes make it harder to obtain benefits.
they deserve careful attention. these are profound problems that have a direct impact on countless individuals. other entities such as hospitals. i'm sure others will agree that we hear about these issues on almost a daily basis. although they have struggle with backlogs since its creation, the agency reports that the current backlog in 2019 more than 2.4 million cases. this represents the incredible 344 percent increase for the backlog of cases in 2014. it is the largest backlog since 2003 when they came to a halt in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
they create real-life problems for people trying to navigate our complex immigration system. imagine a domestic violence survivor unable to escape her abuser because her request for protection has language. a startup company abandoning the key project that will lead to substantial job creations because it is unable to get a visa for specialty engineers. families that remain separated for much longer than necessary because of delays associated with enhanced vetting. they examine how processing delays impact everyday people. will also explore what is causing these delays. how they plan to bring processing times down to reasonable levels. although it is true the backlog to increase violence, and staffing issues, and other operational factors, it is clearly another driver.
implemented are substantially changing the way they are adjudicated. the administration has eradicated a number of commonsense policies that have streamlined processing. it appears that these new policies have also increased the odds. that means more delays and more web pay without good reasons. processing delays making it more difficult than ever to qualified applicants to get immigration status. this piece need individuals from being fully productive members of our society and economy. others may be reluctant to do
things that ultimately benefit our country out of fear of interacting with the administration. i look forward to today's testimony so we can better understand the purpose and intent of recent policy changes as well as the impact. my hope is that with today's hearing, we will not only hear about these problems could be addressed, but they will also determine whether or not legislative fixes are necessary. a return to the ranking member for his opening statement.>> i think the chair. i appreciate them holding this hearing. the subcommittee has an appointed oversight responsibility. adjudication without fall squarely within the current issues we should watch. i wish i had heard the same concerns and average one president obama's program resulted in long adjudication
wait times for immediate relative applications among other immigration benefits. in the new york times took notice of the increase times. the article stated that many thousands of americans have been separated from them for a euro more because of bureaucratic delays. the long which came with the agency services shifted attention and resources to a program he started in 2012 to give deportation deferrals to young undocumented immigrants. i do not recall any concerns raised about what the backlogs would look like when my colleagues were passing them. the bill that would have required them to process millions of green cards and naturalization applications.
the volume of benefits request received various. in any given year, they administer a broad range of programs which he receives millions of benefit applications and petitions. in 2018 alone, more than 8 million immigration benefits were requested. that was actually a decrease from the number you requested during fiscal year 2007 10. despite the huge volume of receipts, they still managed to naturalize nearly 757,000 u.s. citizens during fiscal year 2018. more than in any of the previous five years. 2010 also saw them adjudicate more immigration benefits than ever in its history. is to be commended for those accomplishments. to be clear, benefits to be probably adjudicated. everyone here would agree with that. it is important they abide by the mission to throw it at
request from immigration benefits. is also important for the agency to adhere to the rest of its mission. to administer the nation's lawful immigration system. while protecting americans and securing the homeland. immigration benefits should not be delayed for nefarious purposes. nor should they be rubberstamped. as we have seen many factors contribute to the volume of benefit requests. what kind of factors contribute to increased volume. they have led to increases in naturalization applications. those apply for naturalization. on administrative action can increase the volume as well. the doctoral program has added 2.4 million adjudications to u.s. cis workflow. even congress can add to the volume. when you push the increased number in the given category.
unfortunately, they seem to be inherently behind the curve given its ability is dictated by agency funding and funding is dependent on list inflexible roles. there is no doubt that they should remain a fee funded agency. taxpayers should not build a burden a paid for immigration benefits for foreign nationals. i look forward to hearing from them today. any ideas the agency has that allow flexibility to increase and decrease staff with the rise and fall of volume. with regard to recent policy changes about which the majority and some of the witnesses raise concerns, ensure the integrity of our immigration system is paramount. that should be balanced with reasonable policies and procedures. recently they instituted a change in policy to end the practice of filing an application. this opposes an
additional burden and adds to the backlog. it is also important that they have the ability to issue notices to better protect national security and prevent fraud. i look for to the witnesses testimony to get a better understanding of the backlog and the factors contribute to. >> i recognize the chairman of the committee for his opening statement. >> today's hearing examines a critical issue. policy changes and processing delays. it is important to remember that immigration debate does not start and stop at the southern border. they have focused most of their attention. the legal immigration system is
not immune from dramatic policy changes as well. changes that are diminishing the ability to remain in the united states legally. most of the policy changes that have been implemented appeared to be intended to make adjudications more complicated. therefore more time-consuming and more difficult for individuals to obtain legal status in this country. these policy changes in to fix things that were not broken to begin with. on the centigrade unnecessary obstacles to legal immigration. for example, last august, this only announced that it would impose harsh penalties on immigrant students who violate their status. if the violation was not intentional. it was based on the typical error. thankfully this stepped in it this policy is a whole. another example of the determination. it's lost any policy of waiving
the primary. most of these have been in the united states for many years. except in cases, or is there some other issue. backlogs are growing exponentially. let us not forget the public charge role. they would determine whether or not a person is likely to be relying on public services. it is therefore eligible for visa green card. basic services that the uses of their income was only rendered ineligible.
approximately 7000 employees and contractors f5 service and. to give you an idea of the volume of our work, service and operations process approximately five allocations and particularly. that not require face-to-face interviews. applications and petitions for certain humanitarian benefits. this one 60 megawatts the emphasis is to use all without our system.
we are aware of the consequences for evidence if they're unable to meet its petition. sharing individual stores. there are many factors the drug backlogs. service and operations, we see one major factor. other factors include statutory changes. the regular workload demands. applications bugs related to the increases and staffing shortages. we should not that we expect increases.
with the processing times, i'm confident we have the imagination and determination to address this latest backlog. thank you once more for your interest in this matter. would be happy to answer any questions you may have.>> we not go to the members of the subcommittee for their questions. thank you for the i attempted to discuss political challenges we face. chief of the officer.
i served in this capacity since 2016. my creator also served as a director of the office of immigration. our provided number primary factors we have in our permanent battle. currently serve in the management director. responsible for multiple supports functions. human resources. for performance measurement and analysis. specifically my office makes deathly dishes that requires staffing based on future workload projections and efficiency rates. as you can see, what i do not
directly to applications, they do provide the infrastructure and the means by which our agency performs and measures its work. backlogs are not new. which is our highest backlog in 2013 due to import of increased security betting. as of may 2010 is 2.4 million. let me give you an example of the impact of the backlog. it has taken 10 months to process naturalizations. we know from experience it is possible through efficiencies and resources. the 2003 backlog was reduced. and the authority to use premium processing to hire additional staff.
may reduce the backlog down to 50,000. it has ribbons risen each year since then. most was in 2016 and 17. grew from 634,000 of 21.1 million. interested 2.3 million as of september 2017. more than 70 percent between 2010 and now occurred in those two years. the backlog has stabilized since 2017. there are many factors that contribute to changes in the backlog. not going to discuss the most significant factors. the timeline that was all. we projected that would increase in 2016. due to the combined impact of 2
factors. they previously had always increased before the national election. we notice the proposed fee increase is published, it motivates applicants to apply before the increases are implemented. unlike pass election, we see this continued increase in 2017. the elevated levels were largely responsible for the growth. receipt levels have returned to normal. it has helped us to reduce the growth of the backlog. we reached a five-year high in the number of persons. the girls is to continue to
hire more staff. five percent in 18. increasing staff is an effective component to backlog reduction. is effective but not immediate. hiring training staff always takes a few years. it is a reactive process. we have to hire and train staff. that can take many months. for a six year horizon. under this model, they're able to proactively identify required staff. positions are filled by the time they are needed. such process will not only allow them to reduce the current backlog hopefully prevents anyone. i very much appreciate the time and attention you have given to us.
>> thank you very much. thanks to each one of you for that useful and informative testimony. we will now go to members of the subcommittee will have questions under the five-minute role. i would like to recognize the ranking member for his questions. >> i'm going to yield. that would be fine. >> thank you madam chairman. dated the information required double back. >> if you're referring to the petition for citizen, i think was back in 2013.
>> the information you have to verify. >> it as complexity. >> in addition to that, are you seeing an uptick in applications for citizenship? i did not hear how big of an uptick. >> we received a little bit under 1 million applications for naturalization in 2016. a little dinner million in 2017. how does that compare to 10 years ago? >> we average between 700 and 800,000 applications. up to 1 million. that is correct. roughly 25 percent increase in the number of people who are applying. >> that is correct.
on the other side, how many applications do you actually processing or proving. >> in the past fiscal year, we completed 750,000 approvals. it was closer to 850,000 completions for naturalization. what would those figures say 10 years ago? >> i do not have them. there were lower than that. i do not have the numbers. >> we do have some years that were hire. >> going back. the number of applications being approved higher or lower?
>> i was in the last five years has averaged. >> the amount of applications have increased dramatically. up to 25 percent. the amount of information you have to sort through his doubled. with the doubling of the forms. we are seeing a substantial increase in applications of approved naturalizations completed. is the backlog a function of those to make issues. more information to go through? >> yes i would agree with that. how long it takes us to work those cases. >> yield to the ranking member.
>> we now turn to the gentleman from california. >> thank you madam chair. to think and witnesses for the work you're doing. let me follow up on some of the comments made by mcauley. hello it low after 911. the application doubled you said. is that correct? you can understand why security issues. you doubled the amount of work you have to do for citizenship application. i would imagine that the automation since 2013 has increased. is that correct? the processing. >> yes.
productivity was in term of each individual, is that going up or down? >> the processing for individual. >> it has gone up this year from last. >> you have about 700+. the slides you have been authorized. how are you doing in terms of hiring?>> we made a focus of horrors. we have been in the high 90 percent of on board staff. >> a pretty good place to hire people. >> thank you very much. i used to fill out applications for citizenship. one of them was for my uncle.
70 years old. he applied to be a u.s. citizen. victor for 50 years. i feel his application. i called the office and said we lost the application. filled it out again. they do not know the year. the application was laws. the third, do not call. i want to see what was going on. the nice lady behind the counter cylindrical find replication. 2 hours later she came back and get a special bond for attorneys. she came back with half the application. she said we lost the other half of the application. she said i'm not going to make you wait another year. here is a whole application packet. go fill out. three and half years later we finally made him a u.s. citizen. i am sure we have a process system where paperwork is at a minimum. in my correct? >> we have an electronic way to file.>> i am trying to figure
out. you are doing a great job given what you have in front of you. we have a lot of people that have fulfilled the requirements to be americans. for u.s. citizens. all of this information. listening to your testimony. i'm tried to figure out what do i do to help you help those individuals that want to be americans fulfill that american dream.>> the personnel for you. in the process of hiring them. we need more resources for automations. to make sure you crosscheck all of this information to make sure only the good people that deserve to be americans become americans. what else can we do to help you get your job done? in a timely manner.
>> i spoke about the training. i think one of the things that could be helped, we would like to expand our training facility. we have money designated for that. we need authority from congress to be able to expand that. that would really help us to get people on board and trained. ready to work. >> anything else? hiring border patrol agents had been a challenge. because of the lie detector test and the challenge. you do not have anything similar to that in terms of challenges? any other problems. anything else we can do to help you expedite the process. reduce the backlog. >> we have defunded the agency. for the most part we're getting some appropriate funds. the ability to hire staff is
dependent on the fees that we collect. first we need to collect those fees before we can spend them. the need to be set properly. i guess what i would ask, where we periodically review our fee structure the to be supportive of the fees we need to set. >> the gentleman's time has expired. >> thank you madam chair. >> the young lady from arizona is recognized for five minutes. >> mr. valverde. has anyone in this administration told you to slow down processing citizenship cases? >> no man. >> has anyone told you to slow down in the case processing?>> know.>> what do you say to those who claim you're trying to slow processing on purpose. >> i was say the data. to be
surrounded by colleagues who come to work to process immigration request with the utmost integrity as we can. they has been thicker is bringing people to the franchise. were there registered to vote or not is another thing. they has been thicker is helping people become citizens. it is on the process work that we do. >> isn't it true that during fiscal year 18, your agency naturalized more people than in any of the previous five years? >> yes ma'am.>> mr. neufeld. in the testimony in the next panel, mr. cohan will testify that u.s. eis is new rfe id policy means that any small mistake or lack of information on an application that results in a denial without giving the
applicant a chance to correct the mistake. is this an accurate description of the policy?>> that is something that we issue with the evidence that was submitted is insufficient to demonstrate their eligible. for the benefit there is seeking. we issue a request for evidence for the purpose of allowing the applicant to basically provide the following. the change that happened had been previous, there have been a policy that said for the most part where the evidence does not support and approval, that the office should repent. this change you are referring to is the change in the policy to clarify that were the record appears to be complete, the
decision can be rented on the record without having to issue a request for evidence. >> thank you. mr. harper. the house recently passed number 6. the american dream and promise and which will provide green cards and a path to citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants. i'm not going to ask your thoughts on the bill. i would like to ask you what the implication is going to be on operational aspects from that bill. >> i think a lot of it depends on how it is implemented. meaning if it was 2 million people. always that would have an immediate effect. too many people showed up, we
haven't had the hiring and money upfront. certainly it would have a impact. on the backlogs. >> thank you madam chair. i did not have any more questions. did you want it in my time? i you back my time. >> take you to the panel members for being here today. obviously we are here because of the backlogs that many of us experience throughout the country. the administration is added to the problem by imposing new hurdles through every aspect. the fastest-growing and most diverse agents which represent. i appreciate your contribution that it brings to the local
economy. the diverse economy by the processing delays. in march 28, congressman also from houston march 28, congressman olson, also from houston, and i, read a letter from the houston delegation to the former director, outlining the harmful impact of these delays in the community. democrats and republicans alike are concerned about the future of our family and businesses if the backlog problem continues. i might add that this was signed by all members of the houston-area delegation. according to the most recent data, the average time for an i-485 or green card application in houston is currently between 15 and 28 months. for an and 400 application for naturalization, the backlog varies between 14 and 21 months.
for the i 765, the employment authorization, the delay can be up to five months, causing loss of wages for many applicants. it does depend on their contributions. it is disconcerting and unacceptable. though we understand that staffing is up to the agency, it is a long process. requirements for bidding's for candidates and we think that of course, you can all do better. we have identified the problem and now we must invest in solutions. regrettably, madam chair, one of the questions we asked was, do you need additional statutory direction or funding to better respond in a timely way? he actually answered no, although we appreciate the offer for assistance. i would begin my question with that question for the panel members today. you need additional statutory direction or funding? all three of you, just yes or no.
>> as my colleague said before, we appreciate the support when we go to support our fees, so we get the right funding for the casework we need to do. >> so your answer is yes? >> i am answering we would appreciate the support as we look to adjust our fees. >> well i'm glad you are saying yes, because i couldn't understand why the director, who of course is no longer here, is saying no. it seems to me that we can do all we can in providing support, that we need solutions coming from the agency. all three of your career, right? not political appointees? >> correct. >> so you know how this works. many of you have been here through many years. you identified and said the increase tends to come in terms of patterns before an election days the increase, did i hear you correctly? >> that is correct, ma'am. >> okay, we have an
election coming. have you all already put in place planning and processes to prepare for that, knowing that there will be an increase? >> yes ma'am. within field operations we recognize the trend that you referred to, leading up to the election years. there is often an increase in applications. we also recognize the fact that the growth in receipts has not impacted equally across the country. so some of the work we are doing right now to try to ensure that the impact of receipts, the impact of free elections, application growth, are addressed where they are most critical. that is to say, places like houston and others where the processing times are higher than we would like and higher than some other places. we are doing the work there to make sure and applicants experience in houston is more similar to an
average applicants experience across the nation. >> well, what really concerns me too with some of the things we are hearing about some of the changes. number one, the fee increases. number two, they may not get the interviews and they might have to travel a great distance. what is it you are proposing that would actually help people get their applications timely processed? >> the time has expired but i will give you time to answer. >> it is a couple of things. first, with the changing, we have looked at the map and where there are locations that are close and we can move a zip code or something like that, that enables a group of applicants to have their case
seen sooner. that is why we have done that. those individuals, should they be able to travel, we get their case seen sooner, for the benefit of getting seen faster. we are doing a number of things i said in my testimony, so i won't repeat it here around process, reform, hiring and other things to help everyone go faster. >> thank you, thank you madam chair. the gentleman from north dakota is recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, madam chair. i just want to clarify, do we need additional congressional funding on top of this funding? >> i will take that one. i think what we are saying, none of us manage or oversee the budget, but as an executive i am aware of some of the constraints. at present we are unable to hire to the staffing levels that our workload would support because of fiscal and budget constraints. i think it is safe to say that
additional money would help. the source of that money, whether it is appropriated, as an operator, it doesn't matter. it would just be helpful to have the staff. >> i also appreciate, to talk about significant distance, i married an immigrant and we live in rural north dakota. and this is 2004. the process in and of itself is daunting and this is coming from two pretty educated people. i just graduated law school. she was in law school. but when you drive 250 miles to minneapolis and show up for a meeting that was scheduled by immigration and get there and they tell you to go home, because they are not ready for you. so you have to turn around and go back. i practiced in this area. our firm practiced in this area through two presidents now. two republicans and one democrat. i appreciate the fact we are talking about the history of
this, because this didn't start in the first week of january, 2017. throughout the campaign, throughout our office, i have met with people waiting on 2008 visa permits to be processed. these are researchers who were at the langdon research center in north dakota. five employees, total. the frustration level for not only them, but also their employers and the community at large. we have a community under 1200 people. they become part of it. so i am glad we are having this conversation, but i do have one specific question relating to the eb five. that says foreign nationals can apply for permanent residence if they make investment in targeted employment areas. i know there is a rule in place, the eb-5 modernization would increase the minimum investment amount significantly, transfer
targeted employment areas from the state agencies, to the department of homeland security and create priority data retention for eb-5, using priority data previously approved. and to establish more oversight and regional centers, et cetera. uscis submitted the proposed eb-5 program modernization in february, 2018, correct? >> yes sir. >> and omb completed its review of eb-5 in june? >> i understand they recently finished it, yes. >> you have a status update on where that is that? >> it is still in the process. it has not been published yet, as you know. i would expect it relatively soon, but i don't have a date. >> relatively soon, that is ambiguous. we like to use that term. so, months? >> i would think it is less than months.
>> thank you. >> i don't have an answer. >> yes. i want to clarify one point with mr. valverde. you answer the question earlier, mr. valverde, about whether you believe it would be beneficial for congress to appropriate money and you didn't use a yes or a no and then words were put in your mouth and the answer was, i believe that is a yes. i didn't hear a yes and i wanted to make sure. there are benefits, are there not, to having a fee funded system as opposed to an appropriated system for your agencies? >> i'm not an expert in that area. i know enough to know there are profound differences. i guess that is as much as i can say. >> you don't like yes or no answers, do you? >> will the gentleman yield? i would note that these are career -- they don't have really the luxury of opining, that is a policy decision with
the congress to make that. i don't think anyone is proposing that we moved uscis away from a fee funded agency, just to clarify. >> i appreciate the chairwoman clarifying, because i think it is important. there is a perception that your agencies are fee funded, because the individuals that are applying pay those fees and not u.s. taxpayers. i think that is an important perception for many in this country and i appreciate the fact that you are operating under a fee schedule. and i yield. >> yield back in the gentleman's time has expired. the gentleman from colorado is recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, madam chair, for holding this important hearing. i want to follow up on a point made by some of my colleagues a moment ago, because this isn't just around money. a basic set of facts. there was a 13% decrease, my understanding, in the volume
of application submitted. does that sound about right? >> it sounds right, yes. >> and from 2018 to 2017, your budget had a 6% increase. does that sound about right? >> in ftes. >> ftes, precisely. i'm not making the case that there might be a reallocation issue, but to the point my colleague made earlier and she posed a question about whether or not you had been directed to slow walk applications and so forth, the central question, which i think you answered in your testimony, is that the various policies your agency has adopted in the last two years, since the trump administration took office and perhaps at their behest, has that exacerbated the backlog? we understand there was a backlog before january 1, 2017, but i think your written testimony confirms that yes,
that is one of the reasons there is a backlog. is that accurate to say? >> let me go back to the question about the decrease. i testified, what happened is there is some lag when you get receipts. >> i understand. it is a simple question. i guess we will let your written testimony speak for itself. there are a variety of policies, in addition to other factors, that of lengthened processing times. that's not a fair statement to make? >> no, that is fair. >> okay, that is just baseline set of facts i think we should operate under for the purpose of this hearing. i appreciate the work you do and i appreciate your service. i appreciate you appearing before us today. we have a serious problem. this backlog, which i understand existed for quite some time, but has been exacerbated over the last two fiscal years in particular, is not sustainable. a 344% increase from the net
backlog of cases in 2014. look at a five year window and in colorado, my state, the ranking member i suspect appreciates this as well, there is a long queue that is building and building. i appreciate your efforts, but i think we ought -- the point my colleague from texas made, we ought to be focusing on solutions to these problems. one of the issues i want to ask you all about, the backlog reduction plan that you submitted or the summary you submitted to this committee lists as one of your goals, or i should say, one of your initiatives, that you intend to implement, to address the backlog. number five in your list. redefining processing time goals to better reflect true cycle times. which i understand based on your testimony was a recommendation made by the dhs office of inspector general. the way i read this, what you're saying is that right now, because the agency is
unable to fulfill the 100 day goal for a variety of different applications. resident applications and so forth. you intend to simply change the goal and instead of saying 120 days, make it 180 days. i can tell you, from my perspective, having run a regulatory agency in colorado. a small budget, 600 employees, appearing before our legislative committee would not sit well if i said i will simply change the processing time, because we can't meet it. does anyone have a way to explain that? >> i will respond to that, briefly. the oig statement says to me that the 120 day goal of all the things that the agency must day due to process an application for adjustment of status, they are not feasible in 120 days. all the background checks, fingerprint appointment, interview, et cetera. thus we should go back and
give the public a better expectation. from my perspective as an operator, one of the things over the years that has taken time away from our core duty functions is responding to people who reasonably say, when is my case going to be due? >> to that point i would say i certainly agree, i appreciate what you're doing with respect to the online programs. the you have mentioned launching in your backlog reduction plan. i think that would accomplish what you're after, but extending the timelines so it is quote unquote more realistic, to me, is not an appropriate response to the backlog. last, you mentioned, in respect to fees, who pays your fees? who pays the fees? >> our salaries come from the user fees. >> user fees. and what you call them? for the existence, since your agency was founded, we call them customers. that term was removed from
your mission statement, as was the termination of immigrants, a year ago. in my view, some of this is cultural. to the extent we don't see individuals as customers. that this agency is set to serve as a result of the law passed in 2002, i think it implicates the way we look and the plan we make to comport with them. with that i will yield back. >> the gentleman's time has expired. we turn now to the gentleman from florida. >> thank you, madam chair. my first set of questions are for mr. valverde. in his testimony for the next panel that is after y'all, mister cohen highlights the naturalization work that uscis is undertaking. isn't it true that this work focuses on individuals who fraudulently obtain citizenship and the work began under the obama administration? can you explain what you're doing as it relates to that? >> absolutely. the work began in the late
2008 or 2009 timeframe and was highlighted in the oig report in 2016, when uscis really got involved. the short summary of the work is that in the course of uploading old paper files into our electronic fingerprint database, we started getting matches with different sets of biographic information. so what we were seeing, and mainly simpler terms, is to identify these days to identities fitting the same fingerprints. many of them had, unbeknownst to us, gone through the naturalization program. so the work we started in 2016 and we continue today is to get those cases together. if it is to files, three files in some instances. compare the records and find the individuals who obtained the benefit, we think through fraud, and write that up. there are some that we don't think that was the case, but for the ones that we do, we write that into an affidavit
and conspire with justice for them to do the the naturalization process in the courts. >> okay. also in his testimony, mister cohen pointed out that the uscis adjudicators are, quote, asking for more roof of marriage if the applicant is applying based on marriage. if an applicant is applying based on marriage, doesn't it make sense that adjudicators would ask questions about the marriage? i assume the purpose of this is to find out if there is fraud. his marriage fraud a real issue you see in the department? >> yeah, i won't comment on specific cases, but marriage fraud is an issue we come across on a daily basis. it is something we give our officers special training for, so they can pay attention to ensuring it is a bona fide relationship that forms the basis of request for permanent residence or citizenship. >> i have even seen in my own district, a case that was brought to my attention, where the parties were allegedly
married and the alleged wife was living with another man and the alleged husband was living with another woman, so it is definitely an issue. i've seen it in my district in the short time i have been in congress, in the last six months. so i certainly think there is fraud as it relates to getting married and trying to get citizenship and access to our country. in her testimony for the next panel, she refused refers to green cards to their employers as unnecessary. getting a green card comes with benefits and rights, correct? >> yes sir. >> and would you agree ensuring an alien is eligible for a green card is important and required by law? >> yes. >> and are the interviews for employment-based green cards adding unreasonable delays? >> in my opinion, no sir. it is a measure of integrity
to have a face-to-face conversation and ask about their eligibility, for someone who wants to remain there permanently and work here. >> i have questions, how much time do i have left? because i don't see -- okay, is it true that if an adjudicator is adjudicating an application or petition and needs additional information, the adjudicator has only two options? either issue a request for evidence or deny the application altogether, is that correct? >> essentially. they can also issue a notice of intent, to give them an opportunity to respond. >> they could have an opportunity to respond, but that's it? okay. in the latest uscis report to congress recommends that uscis emphasize that applicants verify the addresses provided on all forms. how much of a problem is that the people don't provide their current address? >> i think it is more of a problem that their address might change, so are records don't reflect the correct
address. in an employment context, occasionally we find where the attorneys address or employer's address will be used as the beneficiary's address and that can create problems with us, trying to sort through that when we adjudicate the case. >> so if it's that scenario and they aren't updating you of their address, that is obviously delaying the delivery of work documents from your agency? >> yes. >> how am i doing? >> your time has expired. >> all right, there you go. thank you, madam chair. >> the gentleman yields back. the gentle lady from florida is recognized for five minutes. >> hello. >> i think an efficient and service-oriented immigration system is vital to businesses, for our economy. mostly also for families who are living in the united states. it allows families to be reunited with loved ones and enhances the diversity, which makes this nation great.
i am actually a naturalized citizen. i remember going through the process and i am so grateful that i was allowed that opportunity, but it did take years before we were eligible and allowed to become u.s. citizens. in recent years, we have seen the backlog of cases has exploded from 2016 to 2018 the backlog rose by 1.4 million cases. in 2018, uscis received 1 million fewer cases than the year before, but the average case processing delay continues to rise. the staggering backlog of cases that uscis have created challenges for businesses, universities, hospitals, and mostly families, like i mentioned. despite this, earlier this year the administration announced that uscis plans to close all international field offices. these offices are critical resources and processing
refugee applications, family based visa applications and other immigration matters. my district in miami serves a large population of cuban- americans. from one day to the next, the uscis field office in havana was closed. as a result, families are now separated. i hear on a daily basis, hundreds of my community members writing to us, calling to us. they tweet, asking for a result of this issue. they tell me they wouldn't of left cuba if they knew their sons and daughters would not be able to unite with them here in miami. so i wanted to first ask mr. valverde, who made the decision to close the office in havana to process the parole and family related visas for the cubans that are applying for these visas? >> i don't have a first-hand
answer to that. i understand it was the former director. >> okay. now that the havana office is closed, what is the process for processing these applications and getting these families back together? >> i think none of us on the panel are working in the overseas offices administration, so we would have to get back to you. i do understand the havana office was closed after the attacks -- >> yes, but there was never any evidence add to do with the government there are now thousands of families are suffering the consequences of that closure, without any response. if you could please provide me with that information in the next two weeks, as to what that plan is to process those applications that were already started. and just as a general matter, how does closing a uscis office impact the backlog the agency is seeing? mr. neufeld.
>> as my colleague mentioned, none of us here oversee the overseas offices, so we are a little bit challenged with this. as a service center executive, i would anticipate that some of that work that is presently performed overseas may be coming to the service centers and we would need to prepare for that. for instance, i am aware that on occasion family day petitions might be adjudicated on site at an international office and i would anticipate that that work would be coming to a service center instead. >> so, who made the decision and the agency to close all these field offices, international field offices? >> again, that is a bit of a challenge for us. as i understand it, the decision hasn't been finalized in terms of specifically which offices are going to be closed. >> and you are aware that a lot of these international field offices process international adoptions, support refugee resettlement and handle family
reunification applications? and in addition, in response to the question on fraud, they also deal with some of these fraudulent cases. so i'm concerned there is not enough preparation here, nationally, how we will prepare to close these international field offices. has uscis or dhs conducted a cost-benefit analysis or otherwise study the potential impact of these closures on the processing of refugees, adoptions and other services? is there a study that has been conducted? >> i don't know. >> the gentle ladies time has expired. >> think you very much. >> the gentle lady from texas is recognized for five minutes. >> thank you and thanks for those on the panel. thanks for your service. we have seen a theme this week with the hearing we have had. we had a hearing yesterday on the horrific overcrowding in
the el paso processing facility, as documented in the office of the inspector general. and today, as laid out by my colleagues, the gentleman from colorado, we have seen also a terrible backlog that is been exacerbated by policy. and during yesterday's hearing, what finally surfaced was the policy by this administration was making a challenging situation worse. i believe that the same applies here. just as an example, of what we continue to have two face, in october 2018 uscis published a notice of proposed rulemaking that would dramatically heighten the standard for determining whether an individual is likely to become a public charge. in the background information on the proposed rule, dhs admitted that the new rule could lead to worse health
outcomes, increased prevalence of communicable diseases, increased rates of poverty and housing instability, and reduced productivity and educational attainment. setting aside the fact that the rule as proposed is illegal and exceeds the agency's statutory authority, i would like to ask either mr. neufeld or mr. valverde the following question. when can we expect final action from the agency on this rule? >> i don't have a date on that. it is still going through the rulemaking process. >> okay. if finalized as proposed, will this new rule increase the amount of time it takes to adjudicate applications for adjustment of status and other benefits and if so, what is the estimated additional time burden? >> i will take that, as well. the rule change, like any change, will add a complexity as we train people and try to
roll it out. i don't have an estimate right now, because the rule has not been finalized and we don't have the final language that will apply to our cases. >> will you evaluate how much extra time it will take, what burden it will add to the agency? >> absolutely. we evaluate every two-year fee process how long it takes us to do our actions. in the annual budget process, that is how we allocate the staff that we have to do the work. >> i would request that in your subsequent budget, once the rule has been applied, that you make a note of the edge and -- note of the additional time and staffing required to deal with the rule, please. also, what steps has uscis taken to prepare for the additional burdens that will be imposed on the adjudicatory process as a result of this rule and what is the plan to ensure the processing delays unaffected applications stay within reasonable time frames? that doesn't mean it, that
doesn't mean changing the goalpost, that means providing customer service in the appropriate time. >> as i mentioned a minute ago, as soon as we get the final rule, we can deal with some processes and procedures around it. we will have a better sense of answering your questions with more specificity, but as we are aware of the rule and have seen the proposed rule, we can make some guesses. we are doing planning and taking that into account in our budget process. this year, at this point we are making assumptions about application rates and other impacts. we are doing our planning as we speak right now and we will see when the rule is finalized, what the timeframe is and how our assumptions play out in reality. >> if finalized as proposed, the new rule would require significant training for adjudicators who would be
required to gain new expertise in complex areas of public benefits, including state medicaid programs. however, the proposed rule includes no time or cost estimates of the necessary training. has uscis estimated the costs for training and implementing the new rule and if so, what are these estimated cost ? >> i don't have an estimate for you, but i would say one of the first things i did when i joined the agency in 1997 was the public charge rule we did at that time based on the 1996 act and it is very similar. we had to teach adjudicators to understand what public benefits were and how they impacted the benefits. we do something very similar. i say that to illustrate that we are accustomed to policy changes or statutory changes or process changes and bringing our people through that, with the goal of implementing it as efficiently as we can and as consistently as we can across hundreds of thousands of applications, so we are working on it now. >> and your customers will
shoulder the burden of the added cost, correct? >> the time is up, but the gentleman answer. >> correct. >> the gentle lady from pennsylvania has recognized for five minutes. >> thank you. i wanted to make clear that uscis is the agency charged with processing applications for people trying to follow our rules or become legal residence or get work authorization or become legal citizens, right? okay. so they are not people hiding from the government. they are providing a lot of information to the government as they seek to have this application adjudicated, right? mr. hoefer, i will let you speak for the group. thank you. and until they get citizenship, they can't vote. they can't receive social security benefits. sometimes people can't work. there are a whole host of benefits to becoming a legal resident or citizen, correct?
>> yes. >> we talked a little bit about the delays and some of the factors that led to the burgeoning backlog. i think you mentioned the increase, rather than decrease, in citizenship applications following the 2016 presidential election, right? >> that is correct, yes. >> so after a presidential election there is usually some type of drop off? >> yes. >> i can help you with why that happened. as a legal services attorney, immediately following the election in 2016, we started encouraging people to obtain citizenship if they were eligible due to the anti- immigrant rhetoric coming from the administration and i think the administration helped deliver that message, pretty forcefully, when the first executive orders to come out of this white house were to ban the travel by people who were from predominantly muslim nations and to completely
upend our deportation priority, going from just excluding bad hombres, as one might call them to anyone who might have status under our laws, so there was a huge incentive for people to try to file their paperwork and get whatever status they were able to. but i don't think you mentioned some other things. one thing i noted going through the testimony, the inspector general did mention that the electronic documentation services have had serious deficiencies that is also slow down processing, correct? >> i can speak to that. we used it for citizenship and also for green cards. for citizenship, i will get my year strong, in the timeframe when we were implementing it, it was much slower, because of
some of those difficulties you referred to. >> in the inspector general's report was from november 2017, at which point those difficulties were continuing, weren't they? >> i believe that is the right timeframe. shortly after that, we got back into the system and have been using it since. >> so you had to resume using a system you've been trying to upgrade? because of deficiencies in the new system? >> we started to use it and decided it was better to fix it and pause for a while and use it when it was working the way we intended. >> and that strained -- the period of time that was essential to when this backlog started, isn't that right? >> it was while the backlogs were going. i would note that we had a parallel system, the older system, without getting too much into the jargon, that we continued to use. we did not sit on our hands. we had work to do during that time, as we improved the system. >> okay, that it contributed
to the backlog, right? >> yes ma'am. >> what you didn't mention was there have been a lot of policy changes during the course of this administration that of impacted your ability to process applications. is that correct? >> correct. >> and they would include additional requests for evidence that were not previously required? >> the policy didn't direct that we would issue more request for evidence, no. >> there is been some suggestion that the request for evidence has become duplicative in some cases. you haven't heard complaints that you are requesting evidence in duplicate of manners? >> sometimes a request will be issued, followed by a request for the same evidence? >> yes. >> i am sure in the millions of cases we process, mistakes are made, but that is not
common. >> is someone who has had to submit their attorney representation file six or eight times on the same case, i think there are some issues with that. another policy that would seem to increase time for response, would be a eliminating the 90 day deadline for processing employment applications, right? if there is no longer a deadline it can take longer? >> no, that didn't drive how much longer it takes to process cases. >> okay. >> the gentle ladies time has expired. but, we got an answer to the last question? okay, thank you. then the ranking member has said he has questions, so i will go to my questions and i think we are expecting a vote on the floor very soon, so we will have to come back for the second panel after that vote.
i am concerned about how the processes have changed and the impact on the administration of the benefits program. everyone wants a system that avoids fraud and adheres to the requirements but i just have questions about the impact in certain cases. where the delay really eliminates the value of the program itself. for example. the opt program, optional practical training program, the earliest they can apply as 90 days before the end of the program. i've heard that the delays are so extreme, five months or more, that in some cases
you've got a student the graduated college. they go on to their phd. they have an internship that is over before they even get approval to do it. so the whole idea of having this program is undercut by the delay. you wonder what is being achieved here? other than to undercut what the agency wants to do, because of the delay. i have concerns about what is happening on the employment side. we've had a number of questions on the family side. very important. but the statistics, nearly 50% of all h1b petitions received rfps in the second quarter of 2019 and i am wondering why. i will give you an example. i come from silicon valley. i recently had a casual conversation with someone i
have known for many years. a serial entrepreneur. the ceo of several companies and now he has a startup. he had an h1 b holder that was reviewing and instead of getting a renewal, he had a question from cis, was it really well fitted to the job? his question was, what would uscis know about that phd, versus him as the employer, and secondly, why this big study on a renewal of an h1 b? what changed? was their first response wrong? people are just feeling jerked around, for lack of a better term. what we've got our canadian recruiters coming into american tech centers and luring people away. the tech economy in toronto is going faster than the tech economy in silicon valley and washington.
a lot of people think it is because of uscis and our immigration policies. can you tell me about why we are doing the rfps that we are doing in the program, for renewals in particular? >> so that one is mine. i can tell you that a number of changes have been made, affecting the h-1b process over the past couple of years. i'm sure you are familiar with them. when there is a change introduced, we have to first retrain our folks, and educate the public on what the requirements are as we now understand them. whatever happens, it is usually pretty predictable that we will have an increase in requests for evidence. perhaps an increase in denial. usually over time, as the public becomes familiar with what the requirements are and adjudicators become more efficient, then we will see
requests, the impact of those changes, become more stable. >> let me ask you another question. somebody said, why don't we have some judgment being shown in these cases? we know there are entities that have used the h-1b program and there is not going to be a single person on this panel was scrutinized that situation. we all agree on that. then you have situations where that is not the case and have people who are being denied and they appeal and they win their appeals, every single time. so what has happened is you just added money, cost, delay, for no outcome. is there any analysis going on on where the appeals are always successful and the denials are always wrong and some assessment on what you're doing here? >> so i won't say there has been a study of the decisions coming from the aao, but i will tell you that as we received decisions from the aao that overturned the
decision of the adjudicator, we do review those and determine whether it was a training issue or some other guidance that needs to be clarified or what have you. >> just a final question, i've also received a lot of complaints about the use of denials or ftes, compared to the more informal notice of intent process that used to be more prevalent. for example, i have had tech people say, you know, there is a clerical error on the application. instead of calling up and saying was it this date or that date or was there a typo on this line, they would request evidence or deny it, even worse. you have to go through the whole process. why is that? what is the value in that? >> i think this gets back to the change in policy that we were discussing previously. the prior policy did require that pretty much in every circumstance, even if records seem to be fully there, that
request for evidence would be issued in a policy change that allowed for folks to go straight to a decision if they felt the record is complete. again, i don't think we have done a study to determine the impact, as far as how many cases have gone straight to denial as opposed to having a request for evidence issued in the interim. i would imagine we can get data on that. >> since i have asked others to keep within their five minutes, my five minutes is up. i will note that we have also been called to vote. we have additional questions. sheila, you came in later. before we end this hearing, let me turn to ms. jackson-lee for her five minutes and then we will have time to get to the floor. the gentle lady from texas is recognized. >> i think the chair and thank you for holding this hearing. to the witnesses, uscis
acknowledges per policy changes that slowed processing and increased the backlog. does uscis, and i know we've had a series of questions like this, make any efforts to improve data collection and analysis to better understand the impact of future policy changes and processing time on case backlog? >> we do reviews, looking back in time to see the policy effects. certainly when we have information about the various policies, we tried to make estimates of how long things will take. we regularly do reviews every year on this nature. >> what is your backlog now? if you had to give a landscape approximation of how many backlog cases, do you have a handle on that? >> we have 2.4 million cases in backlog and overall, 5.9 million cases pending.
>> and those individuals, do they have a document indicating pending case? are they subject to the actions of immigration enforcers, because they are not status? or do you continue to provide them with updated paperwork that their present status is due to your backlog? >> i can take that. so everybody who files a petition or application with us will receive a receipt and that will indicate that the case is pending. depending on what they are applying for, that might provide them with a status or some protection from removal. it depends really on what their status was before they applied and what the status was that they are seeking. >> employment application delays have been substantial.
delays on employment authorization of impact on many stakeholders and can result in prolonged benching or job loss. families are put in disarray, because families are dependent on the person seeking the employment status. you have any way of channeling the employment requests, because these people have a legitimate base of income, family members dependent on them, is there anyway to stovepipe those requests? >> so we are concerned with processing times for the authorization documents and one of the things we did is to provide for auto extension, so if someone has an employment authorization document and they need an extension, depending on the category their old card is automatically extended while we process their case. that was one of the things we tried to do to provide some relief. also, this category of work is very important, but it also competes with the other categories of work that we have with our limited
resources. i can tell you we do prioritize it and compared to other processing times for other applications, they are typically handled much more quickly, but not as quickly as we would like. >> would you consider going back and analyzing how you would resource the employment request in a way that you might recommend, that would help you move them faster? certainly vetting is important, but move them faster? >> yes. >> are you appointees or civil servants? >> where civil servants. >> first of all, let me thank you for your service. i've probably run into you before. are you noting different directions that seem to be coming from the administration, impacting staffing? impacting immigrants who are coming in or not showing up? in terms of the disparate -- frankly, i don't know if this administration is for any
emigration. illegal or illegal. not illegal, but helping undocumented, helping people in the country, i have no idea. that sets the tone for the work you do and people accessing your services, which are very important. in the funding, that we in congress, i'm not sure if it is reaching you. i notice you have staff turnover. what is happening with the staff turnover and the people that come in that you see? >> staff turnover, like any agency we experience attrition, but i don't think that is a huge concern for us. the difficulty for us is in terms of hiring could take several months. not only to bring someone on board, but then to get them trained and experienced. >> so congress is giving you the resources to hire as you need? >> we are fee funded, so we don't usually need to look to congress to authorize our staffing levels. >> so you can expand your
staffing levels of necessary? >> with the fee, yes. >> right, and you will look into the stove piping of fees? >> yes. >> thank you, i yield back. >> thank you, the gentlelady yields back. >> i ask that a statement from the chamber of commerce be included in the record. >> without objections, so ordered. i would also ask unanimous consent that the following statement be made part of the record from the american council on education, the american immigration counsel, the asian-pacific institute on gender-based violence, the association of american universities, boundless immigration, church world services, the compete america coalition, forward us, her justice, invest in america, national immigration forum, the national partnership for americans, and again, the information technology industry council, without objection, those statements are made part of the record. as a parting comment, i think
planning ahead is something that will be very helpful, in terms of changes in policy. i think you heard from many of us when the premium processing policy was changed after the applications had already been mailed, on sunday. when the due date was monday. and people had to rip checks out and rewrite them, people whose applications had already been sent were rejected, because they had more money on the fee. it is just a crazy way to run an outfit. i know it wasn't your decision, but that kind of stuff creates chaos in the community. in the business community. it is counterproductive in terms of a good economy for the united states. with this, we will recess until after the vote. we will have five legislative days for additional questions to each of you. we would ask if we do, that you answer them promptly.
>> back toward her. we had a number of votes and hopefully we will get some of the other members who are on their way back, but for now we will start with our second panel. i would like to introduce all of them, but before i do, let me ask you all to stand, raise your right hand and -- do you swear or affirm under penalty of perjury that the testimony you are about to give is true and correct to the best of your knowledge, information and belief, so help you god? in the record will show that each of the witnesses replied in the affirmative. now we will introduce our four witnesses. mr. lindt is president of the lawyers association and a partner at the chicago's office of sydney and austin llp, where she specializes in business immigration programs
and i-nine compliance. she has offered numerous publications. she has served as a member of the leadership board of the national immigrant justice center in chicago and currently advices several chicago-based organizations that provide assistance to underserved immigrant communities. ms. bussey is the director of the catholic immigration network, known as clinic. she is worked in the field for 20 years. prior to clinic, she served on the board of directors on the foreign-born information and referral network. a maryland-based nonprofit that supports immigrants, refugees and agai leaves. she also served in private practice at a multitude of firms. eric cohen is the executive director of the immigrant legal resource center. prior to being named executive director in 2007, he
supervised the legal work as legal director and staff attorney. he has been a professor of immigration law and supervised the immigration law clinic at stanford and the university of california hastings school of law. he has co-authored countless publications and manuals for immigration attorneys and specializes in naturalization and citizenship issues. jessica vann serves as director of policy studies for the center for immigration studies, where she has worked since 1992. she is also an instructor for senior law enforcement officer training seminars at northwestern university center for public safety in illinois. prior to her work with the center for immigration studies, ms. vaughan was a foreign service officer with the u.s. department of state where she served in belgium, as well as trinidad and tobago. thank you for being here. as you know, we have your written statements that will be made part of the record and we ask that your testimony be
about five minutes. there is a light system, somewhere. maybe not. but when you are one minute away from five minutes, the yellow light will go on in the red light is supposed to go on when your time is up. we ask that you try to stay within that timeframe and we are eager to hear from each one of you. with that, we will start with you, ms. lint. >> thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on the bipartisan issue of reducing processing delays at uscis. i am the elected president of the american immigration leaders association. a private bar association of more than 15,000 immigration attorneys and law professors. i am also a partner at the law firm of sydney austin, where i specialize in business integration and recognize a wide range of companies. collectively we represent businesses, families and
people seeking protection before uscis in nearly every kind of immigration application. unfortunately, our experience reveals a troubling reality. today's uscis is an agency rife with processing delays driven by the agency's own inefficient processes. congress established uscis to be a service-oriented immigration agency that meets the needs of american businesses and families. to accomplish this, the agency must process applications efficiently and timely in a manner that protects the integrity of the immigration system. the magnitude of the delays now facing uscis customers, many of whom face significant fees for the services, is extreme. uscis has a history of chronic management problems and processing delays, but the delays are particularly acute now. analysis of uscis data reveals
that between fiscal years 2016 and 2018, the average processing time surged by 46% and the overall backlog of delayed cases exceeded 5.69 million. this slowdown in case processing has a significant impact on u.s. business and family. the delays restrict the abilities of u.s. businesses to hire workers they need to be competitive nationally and globally. they prolong the separation of families. they endanger those who need humanitarian protection and they stall the integration of aspiring u.s. citizens. and this is not a matter of ideology or politics. u.s. businesses and individuals are paying substantial filing fees for applications for benefits. the agencies implementation of our system is simply a matter of good governance. leaders in congress, on both sides of the aisle, have recognized the critical impact to be uscis delays are having and with bipartisan action have called for greater
accountability. in march of this year, a bipartisan delegation of tin house members from the houston area, some on the subcommittee, wrote that the agency's inability to act in a timely way to serve the houston area was posing, quote, a hindrance to our nation's future. in may, 38 u.s. senators including 19 republicans in 19 democrats expressed alarm over uscis's nationwide slowdown. in response, uscis has largely attributed backlog to resource constraints and high numbers of applications. however, uscis's own data shows that in fiscal year 2018, the agency's budget grew and application rates significantly declined. yet in that same time, case processing time still increased by 19%. the evidence demonstrates that in fact it is the agency's own inefficient policies that are driving the longer processing
time. in my testimony, i cite many of the problematic policies that uscis has implemented. here are three. first, in october 2017, uscis imposed a policy mandating an in person interview card through his or her employer. officers already had the discretion to select cases to are interview but now the agency requires in person interviews for every single politic even if there is no indication that it's necessary. in drains the valuable ajewelled indication resource that is kwo reduce the back lock log. second in 2017 uscis changed a 2004 policy from the bush era to require the agency to rejude kate every application fors extension of status even where the same questioner is same employee for the same job under the same visa type and where there has been no meaningful change in circumstances. and third, uscis data shows significant spikes in requests for evidence being issued from
the agency. these requests halt case processing, often request irrelevant or previously provided information, and create an additional time consuming and resource intensive step in the process. in my own practice i have witnessed the growth in case processing delays and their harmful ens consequences for businesses nationwide. i have seen companies workforce gaps going unfilled. i've seen workers losing employment authorization. and every day i see the uncertainty that now pervades the business environment. as a result, our country is losing valuable university graduates, talented professionals and entrepreneurs from abroad who are choosing destinations other than the united states because the stress, the lengthy processing times and the unpredictabilitiet of the u.s. immigration process creates an environment inhospitable to innovation and to attracting and retaining global talent. so members of the subcommittee,
it is imperative that both uscis and congress act swiftly to eliminate processing delays and their destructive consequences. most importantly uscis should reverse inefficient policies that needlessly delay adjudications. i also urge congress to pass legislation that strengthens accountability at uscis and ensuring the agency serve the american people, our families and businesses. congress gave uscis a mandate and for the sake of our national interest the agency muffle fulfill it. >> thank you very much. we'll now hear from ms. bussey. >> good afternoon chair -- chairwoman lofgren ranking member buck. i'm jill marie booze yao and i'm the director of add vekt i catholic immigration n-and an attorney with about 20 years of experience in immigration law. we are grateful for the invitation. guided by our catholic identity
and mission to welcome the stranger clinic promotes the rights and dignity of immigrants. our network of over 370 non-profit gript legal services agencies serve hundreds of thousands of low income immigrants each year. providing us with valuable insights appear real life examples of the problems they faced before uscis. over the past two years we have become increasingly alarmed to see the political letteredship at uscis steering the services based agency toward enforcement and away from its congressionally mandated purpose. customers provide sensitive personal information about themselves and their families to uscis. they pay application fees with their hard earned money and put their trust in this agency. unthe current leadership their lives are being up ended as deliberate policy choices and gross mismanagement led to crisis level case processes backlogs. for example, longer forms and new rules asking for unnecessary
information create needless redundancy and drain resources. cases with small errors or issues previously resolved threw customer service have been denied. forcing everyone to go back to square one. uscis has stopped processing work permits within 90 days and then made it harder for people to request expedited processing. slow processing times rob people of their dignity, livelihood and security. they also shake people's trust in our immigration system. our written testimony explains in detail the problematic policies that we have identified as well as in re human consequences. today we lift up three. has am's story illustration the harm caused when uscis fails to process applications on time. he came in 2011 to study engineering just as syria's civil war was erupting unable to go home after the student visa ended he applied for temporary protected status and found a job at a small firm in oregon.
he faced numerous consequences due to application processing days including renewing his driver's license, gaining access to his own bank account and losing billable hours at work and much needed income. delays have also deprived americans of critical services when green card processing stalls. for example, father arjen is a catholic priest from india serving a 160 mile rural area in up state new york he celebrates mass oefficiency wedding visits the sick presides over funerals waiting two years for his friend card forced him and hi diocese to submit multiple applications to the uscis because his driver's license is connected to his immigration status, he is experienced difficulties get going renewed. his work permit and his driver's licenses are key tools that allow him to serve. here uscis delays may cause a
vulnerable parishioner to miss past oral care at a critical time in their life including t last rites. >> cheryl a dominican national and survivor of brutal domestic violence waiting for approval for her green card for nearly a year. that's four times the normal processing time. cheryl fled her abuser but without a work permit cannot provide for her children and forced to move back. the violence immediately began again and under current processing times she would have to endure another six months. this is absurd and it's immoral. cheryl and her children should be safe right now yet they are at the mercy of uscis to process her case. the current situation at uscis is wholly and completely avoidable. it has been brought on by misdirection, mismanagement and poor policy.
to raise fees would force politics and petitioners to pay the costs of uscis's own failures. uscis must rescind the policies they have brought -- that have brought us to this current crisis. it must prioritize clearing the back lock log of survivor based applications and place limits on processing times for work permits and other applications to ensure the most invest vulnerable are protected i thank the committee or attention to issues and i urge all members of congress to talk with constituents and district office staff to learn more about the harm the backlogs are causing. congress must hold uscis accountable. we can right this ship and restore faith in our immigration system together. thank you. >> thanks very much. mr. cohen. >> chairman lofgren. ranking member buck and distinguished members of the subcommittee. thank you for the opportunity to appear before you to discuss naturalization, the crippling naturalization backlogs at uscis and the policies and processes
causing the back logs. i'm here representing the immigrant legal resource center and for 40 years we provided immigration legal resources to practitioners and lead the new americans campaign, the single biggest naturalization collaboration in the history of the united states which helped over 400,000 people complete applications. our nation's naturalization program is in the state of dysfunction and uscis is not adequately fairly and efficiently processing naturalization applications. instead of remedying the situation, the trump administration's policy have exacerbated unmanageable backlogs, the wait to naturalize has ballooned to unacceptable leflsd appear the result is that naturalization applicants and families are suffering. the naturalization wait time has gone from 5.8 months in 2015 to 10.3 months in 2017. as of march 2019 the average is 10 months. in miami dallas and new york, processing times for many cases has stretched to nearly two years. there are several reasons for the processing delays.
first this administration is not prioritize addressing the backlogs and not dedicated sufficient staff resources to clearing the backlog. in previous years where there was a backlog uscis made significant progress clearing the backlog because it was viewed as a priority. sadly, this is not happening under the trump administration. second, this administration spends an inordinate amount of time rejude indicating determinations previously made. thus unduly delaying the process. in in march 2019 which surveyed our nack n american campaign partners across the nation asking them to report changes in uscis practice they observed. many strays reported that naturalization interviews are lasting longer and in fact on average approximately twice as long in the past. thus contributing to the backlog. respondents reported that uscis jude indicators are also viewing naturalization applicants with more punishen. in one case the jude kate err asked for proof of marriage even though the couple has children together and the marriage was already determined valid by uscis during the green card
interview. often jude indicator inquiries require application information outside the scope of naturalization applications news delays adjudication. ourp partners report that uscis jude indicators are asking for travel history beyond the five year period. and asking irrelevant questions even after the fee waiver has been approved. and one recent case an 82-year-old iranian woman applied for naturalization. during the interview the jude indicator decided to revisit details of her asylum case including the trauma she suffered in iran even though the details were vetted during the asylum interview nine years earlier. she broke down during the interview and unable to complete the interview causing her to be denied naturalization. lastly uscis policy directives shifted mission from the benefit granting agency to one that ee the rekts bar years and serves as enforcer including changes to
new naturalization application but adding vague and legally overbroad questions inviting arbitrary and inconsistent adjudications ramping up naturalization developments. extreme vetting proposing restrictions to fee waivers and considering a fee increase. naturalization not only benefits applicants but the u.s. economy. studies show that increasing citizenship results in an increase gdp and increase in individual earnings and billions in additional tax revenue. in 2013 i was fortunate enough to be invited to speak on a panel at the george w. bush presidential lie berry in dallas, texas. the events focus was on naturalization and included a naturalization swearing in ceremony at which president george w. bush gave a wonderful speech. at one very powerful moment in the speech president bush told the soon to be american citizens quote, in a few moments the we will share the same title. a title that is meant more to me
than any other. and i've had a lot. that would be citizen of the united states. citizenship is an important part of the foundation of our democracy. and we should all work to ensure that our naturalization process is plred fairly efficiently and reasonably. thank you very much for letting me speak today. and i look forward to taking your questions. >> thank you very much. ms. vaughan we'd be happy to hear from you. >> thank you. every single day uscis officers face the challenge of balancing their responsibility to make the correct decision on sometimes complicated applications with the need to do so within a reasonable time frame. it's something i did on a daily basis when i was a counselor officers jude indicating visa applications officer have to be on the look out for fraud which is sometimes rampant depending on the category for people or safety risks that's not easy to detect on top of it the agencies are constantly subject to pressure from special interest groups such as kberps that
sponsor foreign workers and immigration attorneys who are sometimes pressuresing the agency to adopt policies or practices they believe favor their business or clients. and especially to make decisions faster. too often uscis leadership suck coupled to the priz as a result has overemphasized swift processing at the expense of correct and fair joud indication. with disastrous results for american workers and others who suffer harm because of rushed decisions or questionable priority decision of cases. adding to the challenge uscis has to follow a cumbersome for setting and collecting fee that is cover the actual cost of jude indicating applications and subsidizing applications in this leads to chronic the understaffing hindering productivity as we've heard uscis has to dole with unfunded mandates at an agency that depends almost ketly on fees such as processing record number
of asylum applications and work permits for them. this afternoon we've heard a lot of criticism of some changes that the trump administration has made to improve the screening of applications and to address the fraud and the gaming of the system. most of these like the interview requirement and the issuance of nt a's are common sense and i address them in detail in my written statement. others likeneding the deference policy and allowing for the refusal of frivolous applications from the get go help unclog the system so that the legitimate politics are not disadvantaged. some of the changes advocates complaint about actually have reduced processing times. but advocates see groups have been silent have been silent on a policy change that is most responsible for the backlogs before the election cycle. and that was daca.
since 2012 daca added more than 2.4 million applications to the uscis workload. 910,000 initial applications and more than 1.5 million renewals process you examine the charts in the uscis testimony you can see the concerning growth in the backlogs began shortly after daca was implemented. to be sure, the naturalization and asylum surge made the backlog worse later. but the daca workload is a major contributor to the problem. the uscis testimony we've just heard confirms that daca was responsible for about 3/4s of the backlog growth that occurred before 2016. and the biggest growth we heard this afternoon interest frrkd from 2016 and 2017 which is before the trump administration policy changes. even more consequential than the size of the daca program is the fact that the fees for daca did not cover the true cost of processing the application. essentially the daca politics got their benefit for half
price. this meant that uscis couldn't hire enough staff for the job and had to cut corners in jude indicating the applications. it also meant that the applications of legal immigrants, especially family applications were sidelined. to add insult to injury because the daca benefits were given at half price these legal immigrants had no subsidize the cost of the daca program threw the fees they paid. i comment the committee for concern over the backlogs and i share those concerns. but if members are looking for ways to actually improve the situation instead of just looking for pretexts to use the backlogs as a cudgel against the trump administration and as cover for restoring policies that are too lax there are options. first, don't add to the problem by creating programs that add to uscis's workload without generating resources to cover
the staff and infrastructure needed to administer the program properly. and do not legislate changes that result in looser screening just to please employers who want it to be easier to replace u.s. workers. also focus on finding ways to enable uscis to be more nimble in setting fees and putting them to use on behalf of the politics. under the bush administration uscis received a large appropriation from congress to address the backlog. in my view this ideally should not come from taxpayers but in the form of surcharges collected from employers or others who benefit from the immigration programs. another option would be to allow uscis to impose a surcharge on daca renewals to help make up for the impact that that program has had on the backlog. above all, remember that we must not compromise security and the integrity of our immigration system to please special
interests. >> thank you very much. and thanks to each one of you for your testimony as well as your written statements that are part of our record. i would turn to the ranking member for any questions or statements he may have. >> first i just want to say sorry. i wish we had more members and wish we hadn't had votes interrupt the hearing. and i very much appreciate you being here. it's an important issue for both sides of the aisle. an important issue we want to solve. we may have differences of opinion on exactly the cause of the problem. but reducing the backlog is something that's very important. there are three parts of my job that i really like. and only three parts. and none of them happen in the swamp. the first is that i get to nominate students to academies. and i am extremely proud of that. and the second is that i get to congratulate participants in the annual art competition.
and i'm extremely proud of that. and the third is that i get toed attend naturalization ceremonies. and it is a thrill that i wish all americans could participate in and understand exactly the life changing event that occurs for all those who are joining us as american citizens. and i think we heard from three non-political civil servants, career individuals who spent their lives trying to efficiently and effectively implement a program. they've identified a number of challenges. and i am -- i am hopeful that we can as a congress as a legislative body support their efforts to make sure that we are allowing the right people to become u.s. citizens and as many of the right people as possible to become u.s. citizens. because it's something that i --
i lock at my grandparents who came here from norway. and i think all of us can identify relatives who immigrated to this country, relatives we are proud of who took the risk to come here. and i am thankful for the chairwoman for calling this hearing and again i wish we had greater participation. so thank you very much for being here. >> the gentlemen yields back. i'd like to -- ms. lindt, go to your testimony regarding the rfes that are sky rocketing. and it appears that in -- from your testimony that the beginning of this fiscalier 60% of the h 1 b petitions had rfes which is a huge amount.
and i'm wondering, what could be the cause of that? what's the impact of that on the business community, and specifically obviously i represent silicon valley. but it -- there are a lot of h 1 b renewals and applicants in the medical arena, especially in rural, underserved areas. physicians. can you dress any of those issues. >> certainly. i -- and thank you. i -- i'm not sure i can speculate as to the cause of it. and it's particularly confounding to us who practice in this area because we're seeing requests for evidence issues on cases where the agency has already looked at that case, sometimes numerous times for, again, the same employer, the same job. the same circumstances. and so i -- it is confounding to see this uptick in rfes and having to establish yet again and this time with a higher
level of burden at the rfe stage whys in a specialty occupation. i can certainly address the impact on employers. busy see this day to day in my practice. it's -- i think the key impact it's making from the employer side very, very difficult to plan. these are companies trying to run a business, whether a software engineering firm, whether it's a manufacturing company, whether it's an r & d company. they are trying to run their business. and part of running their business is recruiting and retaining talent. and they're -- we're in a very tight job market. in addition, often the companies are or universities or employers are looking for people with particular skills. so that, again, they can run their business or they can continue to be on the cutting edge of this sort of research they might be doing. and it's very difficult to plan. and the delays are exacerbating that. and the rfes are especially exacerbating that because it
adds a whole level of uncertainty both in terms of time frame and in terms of outcome to stachg the important positions. >> i'd like -- mr. buck and i help lead a successful effort -- house vote on a bill to ultimately eliminate the per cap for allocation of visas on the business side. but until that becomes law we know that there are visa holders from certain countries that are facing tease extraordinary waits. and i'll give you an example of somebody came to me not from my direct but an m.d. who is waiting and waiting and it's the same employer. he is the same medical doctor. he has the same patients. and now he is getting requests for evidence on the renewal. are you seeing some of that in other fields as well in. >> certainly. and we see it and it's -- we've also heard reports from other members within our association,
also in the medical area. but we are seeing it across the board in a lot of different industries, a lot of different types of employers. i represent employers in financial services and management consulting, in r. and d., in manufacturing appear within and we see the requests for evidence affecting a lot of stres and making it difficult for employers to staff the positions. >> let me ask you, ms. bussey, your story about the priest -- and i'm getting timely prufl and not being able to meet the pastoral needs of his flock including last rites was striking. i'm wondering, can you based on your observation can you give us some examples of how the uscis decision to end deference to prior visa approvals for
religious workers has impacted the religious community and their parishioners. >> absolutely. in fact i brought in our petition with me today so i can show you what it looks like. a couple years ago this petition which is 269 pages long and would be filed in duplicate -- a couple years aigt this application would have been about 100 some pages. but because we are readjudicating applications and because they are issues rfes on applications the first petition filed is front-loaded trying to offset and try to mitigate an rfe. but in a renewal petition is also going to be a lot more evidence that the agency is going to have to get through. this is an rfe response. this is 191 pages long.
when diocese and religious orders are having to respond to requests for evidence of in nature -- by the way, the r-visa is limited to five years. we don't get extensions of r beyond five years. when therapy in the perpetual cycle of responding to requests for evidence, they're left with having to send the pastor, the priest, wak back home to wit for their applications to be processed. what does that do? that takes a pastor. it takes a religious leader outside of their community that they have been minoritying to for five years. someone who has cultural proficiency potentially in the neighborhood or in that community, language skills, it takes them out of that neighborhood, back to their home country. and then the congregation is waiting for an indefinite period of time for them to return, if they ever return. that's a lot of money spent by the diocese, frankly, and a lot
of heart artful -- heart breaking consequences when community members lose their pastor any lose their connection to god. >> well, i have -- i see my time exexpired. so in fairness, i will call a halt to my questions. but i will note that our record is open for five days. and we may have additional questions for each of you. if so, i would ask that you respond if spob in a prompt way. and i do appreciate your testimony. it's been very helpful to hear, not just your written testimony but the material that you have provided to us and people don't realize that witnesses are volunteers. no one is paid to be here. and we appreciate the effort that you've made to inform the
this weekend, washington journal is live from the smithsonian national air and space museum on the national mall to mark the 50th anniversary of the apollo 11 moon landing. joining us saturday morning starting at 7:00 a.m. eastern apollo 11 astronaut. michael cullens. ellen stofap. founding director of george washington university space policy institute and author of john f. kennedy and the race for the moon. john logs don and author of apollo to the moon, a history in 50 objects. teasel muir harmony. joining the program all morning with calls, facebook questions and tweets. be sure to washington jarkt journal marking the 50th anniversary of the apollo moon landing, live, 7 eastern, saturday morning. robert mueller testifies to
congress on wednesday. about possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power by president trump and russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. our live coverage starts at 8:30 a.m. eastern on cspan3. online at cspan.org or listen wherever you are with the free cspan radio app. and before the hearing listen to the complete mueller report at cspan.org on your a little bit or mobile device. type mueller report audio in the search box at the top of the page. the audio is courtesy of timber lane media. next, a hearing on transportation infrastructure. lawmakers are working on getting a multi-year bill out of committee by the end of the summer. senators also discussed how kpliemt change has impacted the nation's transportation system. the hearing was held by the senate environment and public works committee. it's about two hours.