The Real Immigration Problem

The New York Times had an editorial this morning about the real problem with immigration in this country. The fact that many people who want to become Americans are forced to suffer with long delays before getting naturalized and residence visas.

The agency, Citizenship and Immigration Services, is telling legal immigrants that applications for citizenship and for residence visas filed after June 1 will take about 16 to 18 months to process. The agency was utterly unprepared for the surge, and so tens of thousands of Americans-in-waiting will have to keep on waiting. Many, gallingly, may have to sit out next November’s election, even though that civic act was what prompted many of them to apply in the first place.

This was not supposed to happen. The director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Emilio Gonzalez, promised this summer that the era of bad, slow service was over. He said a whopping increase in fees that took effect July 30 — an average of about 66 percent across the board, with naturalization now costing $675 per person, up from $400 — was about to make his agency fit for the 21st century. Speaking to newly naturalized immigrants, Mr. Gonzalez promised immediate results.

One immediate result was entirely predictable: people rushed to get their paperwork in. The agency received nearly 2.5 million naturalization petitions and visa applications in July and August, more than double from those months last year. But Mr. Gonzalez’s spokesman, Bill Wright, told Julia Preston in Friday’s Times: “We certainly were surprised by such an immediate increase.” Surprised and swamped. The agency’s processing center in Vermont is only now acknowledging naturalization petitions that came in by July 30.

It’s telling that we need to explain that this backlog is distinct from the other backlogs that plague the citizenship agency. This is not the visa overload that causes people in some countries, like the Philippines and Mexico, to wait decades to enter legally. Those backlogs are caused by visa quotas that no one has seen fit to adjust. Nor are they the chronic delays in conducting criminal background checks that have kept thousands of immigrants in limbo for months, even years.

Many of those immigrants have given up on the agency and sought redress in the courts. There has been a spate of decisions by judges who found that delays by the Federal Bureau of Investigation are unreasonable — three years is too long to wait to have the government decide if you are a criminal — and have ordered the bureaucracy to do its job. Judge Nathaniel Gorton of the Federal District Court in Boston became so fed up last month with a delayed background check that he simply gave a plaintiff, Ahmed Dayisty, the oath of citizenship.

Maybe before we decide to build a wall on the Mexican border and start ranting again about illegal aliens, maybe we should increase or better yet eliminate visa quotas and make sure wannabe legal immigrants have their background checks and visa applications processed in a timely manner.

h/t: Jon Henke @ QandO

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.
  • TanGeng

    Good stuff. I’m always in favor of a severe relaxation of legal channels. I immigrated here and went through that horrible system.

    Illegal channels are troublesome. Making those legal channels cheaper and faster and massively increasing the quotas would be a great benefit to this country. Most immigrants are young males. They pay more into the welfare systems than they take out.

  • UCrawford

    I’d be okay with it if they’d relax the background checks a little too (or a lot, actually). Trying to restrict immigration does a lot to hurt us economically (restricting the supply of labor, driving up costs of consumer goods, putting power in the hands of unions, decreasing tourism and business travel, creating animosity towards us from the rest of the world) and it creates more problems for us than the occasional terrorist attack would (which I believe would be infrequent even in an open society, especially since the government did away with the previous ban on intelligence sharing between law enforcement and the military immediately after 9/11). The terrorists who participated in 9/11 came here legally anyway, and many of them had no prior criminal records, so it’s not like they’re going to advertise their presence in a way that would be picked up by a simple background check. As for a system by which we check up on every immigrant coming into the country, the cost of it is going to be so prohibitive to make it effective and eliminate the backlogs that I question whether it’s even possible to do that without bankrupting ourselves.

    99.9% of immigrants aren’t coming here for any reason other than to work. I don’t think it’s good policy to punish them because we’re worried about an attack by the .1% who, let’s face it, don’t have an impressive record in their attempts even if they escape detection.

  • UCrawford

    Good post, Kevin.