Saturday, October 27, 2007

Backlog traps immigration applications. The recently Increase on INS services suppose to minimize the backlogs of applications not to increase it. The agency is barred from using federal tax money to deal with backlogs.

The Press-Enterprise

Immigration attorneys and advocates fear that a backlog in immigration applications is leading to delays that could put some people at risk of deportation and cause family members to remain separated.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received a crush of applications in the weeks leading up to a July 30 increase in document fees. Many prices doubled or tripled. The cost for a temporary resident to apply for a green card skyrocketed from $180 to $1,370.

That money was supposed to speed up the application process. Instead, the applications that were mailed in to beat the fee increase have plugged up the system.

In 2006, fewer than 782,000 people applied to become citizens. As of Sept. 30, more than 940,000 people had already done so this year, according to preliminary federal data.

At this point, the delay is only in the processing of applications and the mailing of application receipts, said immigration-services spokeswoman Sharon Rummery.

Attorneys said those processing delays will undoubtedly lead to backlogs in decisions. Even the delay in processing could cause serious problems, they said.

For example, if a temporary resident's employment authorization has expired, that person can often stay in the country if he or she has a receipt for a reauthorization application, said Karan Kler, executive director of Coachella Valley Immigration Service and Assistance, a nonprofit legal group based in Palm Springs.

Without that receipt, federal agents could arrest the resident during a workplace immigration raid or at an immigration checkpoint for not having valid work papers, he said. In some cases, that could lead to deportation, Kler said.

Some employers fire workers with expired documents, even if the employees are permanent residents with green cards, he said. Permanent residents are allowed to stay in the United States even if they receive their green-card renewals late, but Kler said employers sometimes fire them because they mistakenly believe they risk prosecution for employing someone with an expired green card.

The delays could also cause immigration-court cases to pile up, as judges repeatedly postpone hearings while waiting for immigration documents, Kler said.

Kler criticized the government for not using money from the vastly increased fees to improve service.

"With that kind of price increase, you would think the system would be far more effective and faster," he said.

Rummery said the immigration-services agency is hiring and training more employees as applicants' checks are cashed.

"It's going to be a while before additional money coming in from the fees is reflected in reduced backlogs," she said.

The agency is barred from using federal tax money to deal with backlogs, she said.

Martha DahDah, a Riverside immigration attorney, said the delays could also postpone family reunification. Immigrants who marry in their home country may have to wait for weeks for their spouses to receive permission to immigrate, and parents may remain separated from children who still live in their native countries, she said.

Emilio Amaya, executive director of San Bernardino Community Service Center, an immigration-assistance agency, said he worries that delays in citizenship applications could hurt efforts to register more immigrant voters for the 2008 elections. He is meeting with immigration officials next week to discuss the backlogs.

"Anything that delays our ability to fully participate in the social and political system causes concern for us," he said.

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