Not One, But Two, Ballooning Immigration Backlogs

statue-of-liberty-landmark-close-new-york.jpgYou’ve heard about the immigration court backlog, now around a million cases, with people waiting for years to appear before a judge. That’s mostly from the enforcement side of U.S. immigration. The U.S. Citizenship and Information Services (USCIS) is where people “get in line” by filing applications asking for permanent residence for their spouses, or protection under the Violence Against Women Act, or work visas for their employees. That process is also stalling out, with data showing a USCIS backlog of more than 2.3 million cases at the end of FY 2017.

“This total amounts to more than a 100 percent increase over a one-year span despite just a four percent rise in case receipts during that same period….

The case of Mayela Sanchez Miles, who sought protection from domestic abuse by filing a special immigrant petition (Form I-360) with USCIS, provides an illuminating example:

“Mayela Sanchez Miles said waiting for her I-360 petition to be approved was excruciating … Originally from Honduras and without a green card or work permit, she was still dependent on the man who would throw tables at her and threaten to have her deported or killed. Miles’ church gave her some food for the kids and helped her with rent. But soon her electricity and water were cut off because all the utilities were listed in her husband’s name.”

The American Immigration Lawyers Association analyzed USCIS data and came up with a report that should be shocking. Instead, it’s getting hardly any press because everyone expects everything about the U.S. immigration system to be broken. From the full AILA report:

“According to USCIS, through the third quarter of FY 2018—the most recent time period for which relevant data is available—case processing receipts totaled 5,668,544. …This total represents a 17 percent decline compared to the same period during the prior fiscal year.

“Despite that 17 percent decline in volume, the overall average USCIS case processing time increased by 19 percent from FY 2017 to FY 2018.”

Meanwhile, Congress continues the national failure, focusing on border enforcement, despite the decrease in unauthorized border crossings over the past decade, and ignoring the need for comprehensive immigration reform to fix a broken system. Congressional negotiators have let Donald Trump set their agenda. They are not even considering the easy fixes they could make for DACA and TPS recipients: they are negotiating only about enforcement.

Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin wrote a critique of this morally bankrupt strategy in the New York Times:

“You must also look at the intent of someone who wants to construct a wall in order to determine its morality. In this case, it is clear that Mr. Trump wants to deny entry to anyone crossing the southern border, even those who have a right to cross and seek protection and are no threat to us. The administration has just instituted a policy known as “Remain in Mexico,” which requires asylum seekers to stay in that country until their hearings, a process that could keep them vulnerable to organized crime for months or years….

Other policies his administration has pursued, including family separation, the rollback of asylum laws, family detention, the elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and termination of Temporary Protected Status for most of its beneficiaries, show that the administration’s intent is to rid the United States of as many immigrants — legal or otherwise — as possible….

“Immigration reform that is humane and honors our nation’s values must finally be enacted, and the root causes of global migration addressed.”


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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