Immigration officials recently reasserted that they do not have the technology and resources to handle the millions of yearly applications for legal residency in the U.S. According to officials, the U.S. must update its paper-based application process prior to any major immigration legislation overhaul, such as the proposed Guest Worker program.
According to a December 20 report, Richard L. Skinner, Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, cited an extensive list of setbacks in the department’s attempts to modernize their system. “[The Bureau] lacks the processing capacity, systems integration and project management resources needed to manage a potential increase in workloads,” said Skinner.
Legal immigrants currently in the system already face long waits for green cards. A hundred thousand names submitted to the FBI for required background checks, for example, have been on hold for more than a year. In addition, auditors report that, as of July 2006, immigration officials have misplaced 110,000 application files.
Jonathan Scharfen, Deputy Director for the USCIS, admits that there is much work that needs to be done. “We acknowledge that we still have a great deal to do,” said Scharfen. He went on to note that this re-engineering process is a high priority for the USCIS.
But the solution, according to immigration advocates, involves more than just placing a high priority on the issue. “Congress needs to step up and provide the funding to ensure that USCIS is able to build a functioning infrastructure, regardless of the fate of immigration reform,” said Crystal Williams, Deputy Director of Programs for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
There is currently $47 million earmarked for this technology overhaul; however, the funds were withheld by Congress until they receive a final plan from Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.