‘Lives are being upended’ by USCIS policy changes and mismanagement, CLINIC advocacy director tells House subcommittee hearing

WASHINGTON — The political leadership at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has increasingly turned its efforts toward enforcement and away from its congressionally mandated purpose, CLINIC’s Advocacy Director Jill Marie Bussey told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship July 16.

Immigrants’ “lives are being upended as deliberate policy choices and gross mismanagement have led to crisis-level case processing backlogs,” Bussey said in her opening statement at a hearing on policy changes and processing delays at USCIS. “The current situation at USCIS is wholly and completely avoidable. It was brought on by mismanagement and poor policy.”

She offered examples of several immigrants affected by the changes explaining, “slow processing times rob people of their dignity, livelihood and security.” Among them:

  • Cheryl, a Jamaican national and survivor of brutal domestic violence, has waited for approval for her green card under the Violence Against Women Act for nearly a year, quadruple the previous processing time. While she fled her abuser, without a work permit she could not provide for her children and was forced to move back in with him. Under current processing times, Cheryl will wait at least another six months.

“She is at the mercy of USCIS to end this cycle,” Bussey said.

  • Father Arjun, a Catholic priest from India works in a largely rural area of upstate New York. The two-year wait for his green card application to be approved — normally a process of a few months — has meant that his ministry, including celebrating Mass and visiting the sick and dying, could effectively be sidelined because renewing his driver’s license is tied to his immigration status.
  • Hazem came to the United States on a student visa as Syria’s civil war broke out. He applied for Temporary Protected Status and works for a company in Oregon. Processing delays have caused him to have difficulty using his own bank account and renewing his driver’s license and cost him income.

“Over the past two years, we have become increasingly alarmed to see the political leadership at USCIS steering this services-based agency toward enforcement and away from its congressionally mandated purpose — the administration of immigration benefits,” Bussey said.

Other witnesses at the hearing included: Eric Cohen, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and Marketa Lindt, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. A panel of three USCIS staff members was also scheduled for the hearing.

See Bussey’s full testimony and oral statement here. To schedule an interview with Bussey or another member of CLINIC’s advocacy team, contact Ileana Cortes Santiago at icortessantiago@cliniclegal.org, 301-565-4812 or 787-431-6575.