U.S. immigration agency girds for workload spike
The U.S. government agency in charge of processing naturalization and residency applications is preparing for a surge in its workload if President Barack Obama pushes ahead with federal immigration reform next year granting millions of undocumented workers legal status.
A spokesman for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services said the agency is gearing up to handle the huge increase in applications expected if immigration reform is passed by the U.S. Congress.
“This agency has been preparing for the advent of any kind of a comprehensive immigration reform, and if that means a surge of applications and operations, we have been working toward that,” USCIS spokesman Bill Wright told Reuters.
Immigration — particularly what to do with the almost 12 million illegal immigrants who live and work in the shadows — is a divisive issue in the United States.
Obama supports a comprehensive overhaul of laws to grant undocumented immigrants in good standing the chance to pay a fine and become citizens, as well as cracking down on illegal employers and tightening security on the porous Mexico border. But he faces fierce opposition from minority Republicans in Congress.
His administration, which is pushing a flagship overhaul of the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system, has indicated that it means to tackle immigration reform next year. This week, The New York Times carried an interview with USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas.
He said Obama told immigration officials that a legalization program would be part of legislation the White House would propose. Mayorkas said the agency was trying to move quickly to receive all postal applications through secure reception points known as lockboxes — a system that is more efficient than receiving them through local offices.
Wright told Reuters the agency had learned lessons from handling a surge in applications for citizenship last year, by applicants seeking to beat an increase in charges, and to vote in the presidential election in November. He said the agency processes between 6 million and 7 million petitions for immigration benefits each year, including requests for naturalization, work permits and permanent legal residency documents dubbed “green cards.”
The number of undocumented immigrants who would apply for the program is unknown. One think tank that opposes comprehensive reform said screening a vast number of applicants in the event of a mass legalization of undocumented migrants would present a challenge to the agency.
“One of the biggest undiscussed issues that looms over … amnesty is administrative capacity,” said Steven Camarota, research director of the pro-enforcement Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. “We give out a million green cards a year, and the system is overwhelmed by that work load. How can it process ten or 12 million?”
Photo credits: REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (A man waves a Mexican flag during a May Day immigration and labor march and rally in downtown Los Angeles, May 1, 2008) REUTERS/Brian Snyder (Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz and his wife Tiffany recite the Pledge of Allegiance after Ortiz took the U.S. oath of citizenship in Boston on June 11, 2008)