Immigration lawyers blast delays in citizenship, green cards

WASHINGTON (AP) — Immigration lawyers on Wednesday blasted delays in the U.S. government’s handling of applications for citizenship, green cards and other immigration benefits.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association said the wait times nearly doubled over a four-year period while the number of immigration applications rose only slightly.

“Throughout the nation, these delays are harming families, vulnerable populations, and U.S. businesses that depend on timely adjudications,” the group, which includes more than 15,000 immigration attorneys and law professors, said in a report.

The lawyers said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — which is funded by application filing fees — is shifting its focus away from serving immigrant applicants and becoming “a third immigration enforcement component of DHS.”

The association asked for more congressional oversight and greater transparency.

A spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said the agency has opened three new field offices and expanded 10 others in an effort to speed up the processing of naturalization applications and other benefits. The workforce grew by 38 percent over the past five years.

“The truth is that while many factors relating to an individual’s case can affect processing times, waits are often due to higher application rates rather than slow processing,” said spokesman Michael Bars.

But the lawyers association, which looked at data from 2014-2018, pointed to a 2018 report by the Department of Homeland Security showing the net backlog of cases at USCIS doubled during the 2017 fiscal year while the agency saw a 4 percent increase in applications.

AILA officials say the average nationwide wait time for naturalization was 5.6 months in budget year 2016. And in fiscal year 2018, it was 10.2 months.

Jason Boyd, one of the immigration lawyer analysts, said the need for reforms is urgent.

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