News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Red tape contributes to illegal immigration

Here is a fact frequently ignored in the heated debate over immigration: nearly half of the nation’s undocumented immigrants arrived in the U.S. legally. That’s right. According to Pew Research Center, 45% of today’s undocumented immigrants did not sneak across the border. They simply overstayed their visas.

This begs a question: How many of those overstaying their visas would have applied for legal status if the delays, red tape, and fees of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services were not so burdensome? One thing is certain. Don’t expect improvements in the legendary ineptness of the USCIS anytime soon.

According to the New York Times, USCIS officials reported the wait to process citizenship applications has grown from seven months last year to18 months today. Adding to the impediments to legalization, USCIS increased its fees for processing paperwork 66% in July of 2007.

The USCIS is the last U.S. government agency to use a paper-based filing system. You read that correctly. According to the Government Computer News, over 55 million residency and citizenship applications are being processed with pre-computer methods. The USCIS is also the only government agency that is tasked with supporting itself by fees. So we can expect the fee increases to continue.

There is no simple solution to dealing with over 12 million undocumented immigrants. But the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services appears to be part of the problem—not part of the solution.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez