Thursday, April 1, 2004

Legal immigration waiting game gets longer with record backlog

"Green cards that would have taken 14 months to process in 2001 are now averaging 33 months. The number of pending applications for such things as replacing a lost green card and obtaining citizenship has shot up nearly 60%, to about 6.2 million. Cases more than 6 months old have increased by 89% since 2000, from 1.8 million to 3.4 million, according to the government."

"Because the applications are taking so long, supporting documents, including fingerprints, medical records and security checks, often become lost or outdated and have to be resubmitted. That means the application is delayed, with more chores for employees and more anxiety for immigrants."

"In December, a former immigration contractor at the agency's Laguna Niguel office was convicted of shredding immigrants' files to clear up a 90,000-document backlog."

"'The backlogs are now much longer than at any time since I've been practicing, and by an exponential factor,' said Carl Shusterman, a Los Angeles immigration lawyer with 30 years of experience."

"The main reason for the delays is the increased security checks since the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the Bush administration. But congressional investigators and other critics say insufficient funding, lack of personnel and other shortfalls are also to blame."

"The problems with the system have been very real in the life of Elerida Rodrigo, a soft-spoken nurse from the Philippines. Rodrigo, who lives in Torrance, met all the legal requirements for a green card long ago, but it took eight years before she recently got the word that her application had been approved."

"The costs and consequences of the growing delays go beyond personal heartache. Businesses that rely on foreign professionals are facing logistical headaches and added legal costs to maintain their workforces. Family members sponsoring a relative have died while the process dragged on. And some immigrants have lapsed into illegality, risking deportation, because work permits or other papers have expired."

"'Even though we say we want immigrants to go through the legal process and not come here illegally, we make the legal process as cumbersome and difficult as we can," said Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-North Hollywood). 'That is encouraging the very illegality we are trying to deter.'"

Los Angeles Times

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