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The Immigration Bailout

15 January 2009 One Comment

There is another crisis on the verge of catching fire in America and the bailout has already begun.

It is the bailout to fix the costly fallout created by decades of failed immigration policies that taxpayers and lawful immigrants have been funding and will continue to fund to mop up the mess.

Last November, a fraction of the bailout or appropriations (government speak) went to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a $2.6 billion a-year agency. The USCIS received $500 million over five years to modernize its case management system. This agency tasked to protect America’s national security while balancing the nation’s economic needs, and humanitarian desires, intends to modernize by transferring paper applications to electronic filings. This move by the Bush Administration was a last minute rescue because the failure to modernize this perilously dysfunctional bureaucracy produced 20-year backlogs that cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to store in the interim.

According to the Washington Post: “Government investigators have reported that the [USCIS’] pre-computer-age paper filing system incurs $100 million a year in archiving, storage, retrieval and shipping costs; has led to the loss or misplacement of more than 100,000 files; and has contributed to backlogs and delays for millions of cases.”

According to the USCIS’ website, under former acting Director Jonathan Scharfen, the agency “anticipates processing times no longer than 10-12 months…” ‘Anticipates’ is the operative word because this $500 million bailout was not the first installment intended to address the backlog. According to President Bush’s fiscal 2003 immigration budget, in 2002, another “five-year, $500-million initiative” was granted to the Immigration Naturalization Services’ (now USCIS’) “comprehensive” backlog elimination plan “to achieve…a six-month processing-time standard…” Seven years and $500 million later, the problem still exists.

The USCIS’ inefficiency turned U.S. law and order into a travesty where following the law became a roll of the dice, and a cruel, heart wrenching exercise in futility for countless lawful foreign nationals who sought America’s dream. These backlogs grew under the Clinton and Bush Administrations and contributed to the 12-20 million illegal aliens living in the “shadows.” According to a December 2008, Homeland Security Department intelligence threat assessment, “Long waits for immigration . . . will cause more foreigners to try to enter the U.S. illegally.”

It gets worse. How does this failure affect national security? With a chaotic USCIS, who could determine who is in America legally and who should be deported? Are millions of illegal aliens wallowing for decades in the USCIS’ backlog or did they not bother to file? Do they seek to harm Americans? It is impossible to know.

But the burden for the USCIS’s dereliction of duty manifests in other ways: taxpayers fund government lawyers to defend its ineptitude.

Under 8 United States Code § 1447(b) lawful immigrants may file a lawsuit after a “reasonable” period of time, compelling the USCIS to act if the agency “has failed to issue a decision on a properly filed immigration application.” Called a Writ of Mandamus, it “does not force the USCIS to reach a favorable result, but “to take action that it is legally obligated to take.”

Who defends the USCIS’ inability to perform their job? The taxpayer funded Office of Immigration litigation (OIL), part of the U.S. Department of Justice. According to Justice, OIL employs “approximately 250 attorneys” and “100 support staff.” A December 2008 nationwide salary search indicates on average a trial attorney at OIL in Washington, D.C. earns $77,000 annually adding another $20 million a-year cost burden to taxpayers. That figure does not factor in the cost of OIL’s support staff or other ancillary costs to maintain this department.

Do the math. Overhauling the USCIS/INS years ago would have saved taxpayers well over $1 billion dollars on judicial interventions and storage type costs over the last decade alone.

But this ongoing immigration bailout has just begun. There are other problems to tackle such as reducing the incalculable cost of criminal illegal alien crimes against Americans. To attempt to curb this calamity; caused in large part by broken borders and a dysfunctional USCIS, last year Congress authorized another partial bailout: $200 million to fund “a fingerprint database sharing program” with $150 million more slated for the next two years. Reportedly, Congress was spurred into action after “the murder of Houston police officer Rodney Johnson…by an illegal immigrant previously convicted of a crime, was deported,” who returned to the U.S.

What is needed to begin to fix immigration is the immediate restoration of law and order—plus competence at the USCIS, not lawmakers’ noisy platitudes for action that invariably produce costly but minimal results. Unfortunately, thanks to feckless lawmakers that means more taxpayer dollars to bailout the USCIS. It is another crisis American taxpayers did not create but will fund to fix.

Expect immigration reform to make headlines after Barack Obama’s inauguration— a President of the United States whose Kenyan aunt, reportedly, lives illegally in the U.S., as immigrant rights organizations are set to march on Washington on January 21. Calls for a myriad of demands dot their agenda; like a “moratorium on raids and deportations,” “health care for all; and worker justice.”

To see the USCIS at work, click here.