The Department of Homeland Security reported a net backlog in fiscal year (FY) 2017 of more than 2.3 million USCIS cases, more than double the backlog reported at the end of FY 2016. On February 12, 2019, eighty-six Democratic members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Lee Francis Cissna and expressed their “grave concerns about the alarming growth in processing delays” at USCIS and requesting “prompt and detailed” responses to a series of related questions.

“Clearly, policy changes implemented by the current administration in 2017 and 2018 have increasingly shifted the agency away from its service-oriented mission,” the letter states. “Rather than continuing to seek ways to simplify and streamline its benefit-delivery systems, USCIS now appears more focused on erecting barriers to the benefits it administers, including by significantly delaying adjudications.”

The letter asks for responses to questions about, among other things, the causes of the backlog; the use of “extreme vetting”; USCIS’s reversal of longstanding guidance on deference toward prior determinations regarding nonimmigrant employment extension petitions; and USCIS’s proposed FY 2019 budget, which requested the transfer of over $200 million from USCIS to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The letter, which notes that USCIS was created by congressional mandate, asks USCIS how it intends to reduce and eliminate processing delays while ensuring fairness and quality and not passing costs for “the agency’s inefficiencies” on to the applicants and petitioners “experiencing hardship due to USCIS’s crisis-level delays.”

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