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tv   House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on Immigration Policy and Processing...  CSPAN  July 20, 2019 3:40am-4:06am EDT

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>> 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
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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
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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.
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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
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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.
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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 nomite

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