[House Hearing, 110 Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
CAUSES, CONSEQUENCES, AND SOLUTIONS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATION,
CITIZENSHIP, REFUGEES, BORDER SECURITY,
AND INTERNATIONAL LAW
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED TENTH CONGRESS
JANUARY 17, 2008
Serial No. 110-64
Printed for the use of the Committee on the Judiciary
Available via the World Wide Web: http://judiciary.house.gov
U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
40-282 WASHINGTON : 2008
For Sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Internet: bookstore.gpo.gov Phone: toll free (866) 512-1800; (202) 512�091800
Fax: (202) 512�092104 Mail: Stop IDCC, Washington, DC 20402�090001
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
JOHN CONYERS, Jr., Michigan, Chairman
HOWARD L. BERMAN, California LAMAR SMITH, Texas
RICK BOUCHER, Virginia F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, Jr.,
JERROLD NADLER, New York Wisconsin
ROBERT C. SCOTT, Virginia HOWARD COBLE, North Carolina
MELVIN L. WATT, North Carolina ELTON GALLEGLY, California
ZOE LOFGREN, California BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
SHEILA JACKSON LEE, Texas STEVE CHABOT, Ohio
MAXINE WATERS, California DANIEL E. LUNGREN, California
WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts CHRIS CANNON, Utah
ROBERT WEXLER, Florida RIC KELLER, Florida
LINDA T. SANCHEZ, California DARRELL ISSA, California
STEVE COHEN, Tennessee MIKE PENCE, Indiana
HANK JOHNSON, Georgia J. RANDY FORBES, Virginia
BETTY SUTTON, Ohio STEVE KING, Iowa
LUIS V. GUTIERREZ, Illinois TOM FEENEY, Florida
BRAD SHERMAN, California TRENT FRANKS, Arizona
TAMMY BALDWIN, Wisconsin LOUIE GOHMERT, Texas
ANTHONY D. WEINER, New York JIM JORDAN, Ohio
ADAM B. SCHIFF, California
ARTUR DAVIS, Alabama
DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, Florida
KEITH ELLISON, Minnesota
Perry Apelbaum, Staff Director and Chief Counsel
Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees,
Border Security, and International Law
ZOE LOFGREN, California, Chairwoman
LUIS V. GUTIERREZ, Illinois STEVE KING, Iowa
HOWARD L. BERMAN, California ELTON GALLEGLY, California
SHEILA JACKSON LEE, Texas BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
MAXINE WATERS, California DANIEL E. LUNGREN, California
WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts J. RANDY FORBES, Virginia
LINDA T. SANCHEZ, California LOUIE GOHMERT, Texas
ARTUR DAVIS, Alabama
KEITH ELLISON, Minnesota
ANTHONY D. WEINER, New York
Ur Mendoza Jaddou, Chief Counsel
George Fishman, Minority Counsel
C O N T E N T S
JANUARY 17, 2008
The Honorable Zoe Lofgren, a Representative in Congress from the
State of California, and Chairwoman, Subcommittee on
Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and
International Law.............................................. 1
The Honorable Steve King, a Representative in Congress from the
State of Iowa, and Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Immigration,
Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law.. 3
The Honorable John Conyers, Jr., a Representative in Congress
from the State of Michigan, and Chairman, Committee on the
Mr. Emilio T. Gonzalez, Director, United States Immigration and
Citizenship Services, accompanied by Jonathan Scharfen, Deputy
Director for Domestic Operations, and Michael Aytes, Associate
Director for Domestic Operations
Oral Testimony................................................. 8
Prepared Statement............................................. 11
Mr. Arturo Vargas, Executive Director, National Association of
Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund
Oral Testimony................................................. 40
Prepared Statement............................................. 43
Mr. Fred Tsao, Policy Director, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant
and Refugee Rights
Oral Testimony................................................. 59
Prepared Statement............................................. 61
Ms. Rosemary Jenks, Government Relations Director, Numbers USA
Oral Testimony................................................. 65
Prepared Statement............................................. 67
LETTERS, STATEMENTS, ETC., SUBMITTED FOR THE HEARING
Prepared Statement of the Honorable Zoe Lofgren, a Representative
in Congress from the State of California, and Chairwoman,
Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border
Security, and International Law................................ 2
Prepared Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr., a
Representative in Congress from the State of Michigan, and
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary........................... 6
Prepared Statement of the Honorable Maxine Waters, a
Representative in Congress from the State of California, and
Member, Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees,
Border Security, and International Law......................... 6
Prepared Statement of the Honorable Adam B. Schiff, a
Representative in Congress from the State of California, and
Member, Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees,
Border Security, and International Law......................... 7
Material Submitted for the Hearing Record........................ 126
CAUSES, CONSEQUENCES, AND SOLUTIONS
THURSDAY, JANUARY 17, 2008
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship,
Refugees, Border Security, and International Law
Committee on the Judiciary,
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:09 a.m., in
Room 2141, Rayburn House Office Building, the Honorable Zoe
Lofgren (Chairwoman of the Subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Lofgren, Gutierrez, Berman,
Jackson Lee, Ellison, Conyers (ex officio), King, Goodlatte,
Gohmert, and Smith.
Staff Present: Blake Chisam, Majority Counsel; Andres
Jimenez, Staff Assistant; and George Fishman, Minority Counsel.
Ms. Lofgren. The hearing of the Subcommittee on
Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and
International Law will come to order.
Almost 1 year ago, this Subcommittee held its first hearing
of the year to discuss the proposed immigration fee increase.
Just like our hearing today, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
Services Director Gonzalez was our witness. At that time we
discussed, what was described by the Director at the time, the
need for an unprecedented 88 percent increase in immigration
fees, including a 59 percent increase in the citizenship
application fee. We were told at that time that this fee
increase would solve several problems at USCIS, specifically a
20 percent increase in efficiency in adjudication of
immigration and naturalization applications.
As you know, I was not pleased last year about the
tremendous fee increase, especially for families attempting to
naturalize. I was particularly concerned that the justification
for such a large fee increase was based in part upon a poorly
devised technology transformation plan. My staff and I spent
the rest of the year working with you, Director Gonzalez, to
try to address these concerns including helping to arrange
volunteer assistance from Stanford University Computer Science
Department and the Stanford School of Business.
Today I have not yet seen a satisfactory transformation
plan, and instead USCIS is projecting a naturalization
application increase in adjudication time of up to 18 months,
up from what was usually less than 6 months just before the fee
increase was implemented in August. If the fee was supposed to
help the agency, I cannot understand why we are in a worse
I have heard the explanation that the sharp increase in
naturalization applications was unforeseen, but I can't
understand how it was not foreseen. Just last week I asked the
Congressional Research Service to analyze and report on the
connection between fee increases and surges in naturalization
Their preliminary report suggests not only that fee
increases may have led to a spike in naturalization
applications, but that several other factors in the past have
caused surges, all factors that could have and should have been
foreseen last year. I just can not understand how an agency
whose mission it is to adjudicate applications have not done
these types of analyses to prepare for increases in
naturalization applications far in advance of implementing a
fee increase, especially since it took CRS only a few days to
If an analysis of this type was done, it is even more
inexplicable why a work plan was not put in place sooner to
prevent this tremendous new backlog instead of waiting 4 months
after the fee increase to finalize the plan.
I have also heard the explanation that there was no way for
the agency to have foreseen the high level of increase in
naturalization applications. Unfortunately, it appears the work
plan for any size increase, small or large, was not even
finalized until long after the implementation of the fee
I have asked repeatedly how it is that this Congress can
help to provide the resources you need, Director Gonzalez, to
manage this naturalization increase. In response, I immediately
introduced a bill that garnered bipartisan support to assist
you in hiring annuitants. I only wish the agency had sought
that authority when you proposed your fee increase, again in
what should have been a foreseen surge in naturalization
I understand you have space and capacity issues. I wish the
agency had raised this issue with us long ago. I am more than
willing to do whatever I can to help with this and whatever
other resource you may need to address this new backlog.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Lofgren follows:]
Prepared Statement of the Honorable Zoe Lofgren, a Representative in
Congress from the State of California, and Chairwoman, Subcommittee on
Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International
Welcome back Director Gonzalez. Almost one year ago, this
subcommittee held its first hearing of the year to discuss the proposed
immigration fee increase. Just like our hearing today, U.S. Citizenship
and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Gonzalez was our witness. At
that time, we discussed what was described by the Director at that time
the need for an unprecedented 88% increase in immigration fees,
including a 59% increase in the citizenship application fee. We were
told at that time that this fee increase would solve several problems
at the USCIS, specifically a 20% increase in efficiency in adjudication
of immigration and naturalization applications.
As you know, I was not pleased last year about the tremendous fee
increase, especially for families attempting to naturalize. I was
particularly concerned that the justification for such a large fee
increase was based, in part, upon a poorly devised technology
transformation plan. My staff and I spent the rest of the year working
with you to try to address these concerns, including helping to arrange
volunteer assistance from the Stanford University computer science
department and the School of Business.
Today, I have not yet seen a satisfactory transformation plan and
instead, USCIS is projecting a naturalization application increase in
adjudication time to up to 18 months, up from what was usually less
than six months just before the fee increase was implemented in August.
If the fee increase was supposed to help you Director Gonzalez, I
cannot understand why we are in a worse place today. I have heard the
explanation that the sharp increase in naturalization applications was
unforeseen, but I cannot understand how it was not foreseen.
Just last week, I asked the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to
analyze and report on the connection between fee increases and surges
in naturalization applications. Their preliminary report suggests not
only that fee increases may have led to a spike in naturalization
applications, but that several other factors in the past have caused
surges, all factors that could have and should have been foreseen last
I simply cannot understand how an agency whose mission it is to
adjudicate applications had not done these types of analyses to prepare
for increases in naturalization applications far in advance of
implementing a fee increase, especially since it took CRS only a few
days to do so. If an analysis of this type was done, it is even more
inexplicable why a work plan was not put in place sooner to prevent
this tremendous new backlog instead waiting four months after the fee
increase to finalize the plan.
I have also heard the explanation that there was no way for the
agency to have foreseen the high level of increase in naturalization
applications. Unfortunately, it appears the work plan for any size
increase, small or large, was not even finalized until long after the
implementation of the fee increase.
I have repeatedly asked how it is that this Congress can help to
provide the resources you need to manage this naturalization increase.
In response, I immediately introduced a bill that garnered bipartisan
support to assist you in hiring annuitants. I only wish that the agency
had sought that authority when you proposed your fee increase given
what should have been a foreseen surge in naturalization applications.
I understand you have space and capacity issues. While I wish the
agency had raised this issue with us long ago, I more than willing to
do whatever I can to help with this and any other resource you may need
to address this new backlog.
Ms. Lofgren. At this point, I would recognize our
distinguished Ranking Member, Congressman Steve King for his
Mr. King. Thank you, Madam Chair. I have often spoken at
naturalization ceremonies to welcome new citizens as full-
fledged members of the American experiment in democracy and our
constitutional Republic. And I do that to stress the importance
of learning English and assimilating into American life and
culture. And I point out that I joined the Director at a
naturalization ceremony at the Old Executive Building on a
Friday before the Fourth of July of 2007. It was a memorable
day. We should most definitely encourage assimilation and
I was troubled to learn of one of this Subcommittee's
hearings on assimilation last year that the number of
naturalizations has actually decreased over the last several
decades. In the years before 1970, 82 percent of immigrants
were naturalized; however, that number fell each subsequent
decade to the point at which from 1990 to the year 2007, only
13 percent chose to naturalize.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has seen an
enormous increase in the number of immigration benefit
applications over the past several months. Many of those
applications are for naturalization. In fact, it is my
understanding that 1,059,793 naturalization applications are
currently pending. Once an application is pending for 6 months
it is considered backlogged, so many of those pending
applications will soon be considered backlogged.
The surge in applications can be attributed to several
factors, including the recent immigration benefit fee
increases, the upcoming elections where there have been some
hard pushes by a lot of organizations to increase the
naturalization, and the acceptance of an enormous number of
employment-based adjustment of status applications. USCIS has
the responsibility to process immigration benefits
applications, including naturalization applications, in an
But let me strike a cautionary tone. In a rush to
naturalize, we at all costs cannot witness a repeat of the
Citizenship USA debacle of a decade ago. What was Citizenship
USA? Let me quote from a statement that Judiciary Ranking
Member Lamar Smith made in 1997 at an investigative hearing and
I quote. ``Citizenship is the greatest honor this country can
bestow. No award, medal, or commendation surpasses the simple
dignity conferred when a former alien gains the privilege to
say 'I am a citizen of the United States.' this privilege is
sought by millions of people around the world. It encompasses
the right to travel freely, to hold almost any public office,
and to petition for the immigration of relatives. Most
importantly, it empowers a new citizen with the right and
responsibility to vote and actually shape the future of our
Nation. Among the many difficult challenges faced by the
Immigration Service, none is more important than making sure
that this honor is bestowed only on those who deserve it.''
And I continue to quote from Lamar Smith's statement.
``Citizenship USA was the Clinton administration's initiative
to promote naturalization to process new applications. We are
here today because, despite assurances to the contrary, more
than 180,000 aliens were naturalized without having received
complete background checks, resulting in the naturalization of
substantial numbers of criminal aliens. As stated in
yesterday's Washington Post `--this is a decade ago,'
yesterday's Washington Post, and I quote from it--`The failings
of the Citizenship USA have triggered one of the most damning
indictments ever leveled at the Immigration Service that it has
cheapened U.S. citizenship.' ''
And continuing with Lamar Smith's quote, ``The failures of
Citizenship USA are an insult to the hardworking and law-
abiding immigrants who truly earn this honor. It sullies them
and cheapens their achievement. These failures also legitimize
the residency of criminals in our community and endanger public
safety. There is nothing wrong with encouraging naturalization
or urging newly naturalized citizens to vote. There is
everything wrong with overlooking criminal background checks,
naturalizing criminals, endangering public safety and then
concealing the extent of the problem.''
In the district that I represent, we have individuals who
were naturalized in the hurry-up process over a decade ago,
called Citizenship USA. They have said to Representatives,
elected Representatives, that they understood that part of
their obligation was to go to the polls and vote for Bill
Clinton. That motive is brought into question by those examples
that I know of in the area that I represent. And I just bring
that up not as an indictment of past history, but we need to
learn from past history. And of all the things that we do here
and we discuss, this is a surprise event in a way that numbers
are greater than anticipated, USCIS needs to ramp up to deal
with this. But the applications need to be verified and their
legitimacy and their background checks need to be done
thoroughly so that citizenship is not devalued and so that the
election that is upcoming in 2008 doesn't have a negative pall
cast over it, that the integrity of every vote in America is
measured equally. And that is my interest in this and, I
believe, also the interest of Mr. Gallegly who asked me to
mention his name with regard to these statements.
And I look forward to the testimony, and I yield back the
balance of my time.
Ms. Lofgren. Thank you, Mr. King.
I would now turn to the Chairman of the full Judiciary
Committee, the Honorable John Conyers, for any opening
statement he may wish to make.
Mr. Conyers. Thank you, Chairwoman Lofgren. This is a very
important hearing, and because you have covered literally the
same points that I made and that I would have made in my
opening statement, I just want to put mine in the record and
make this observation. I go to a lot of swearing-in ceremonies
in Detroit, and the excitement and the thrill of family seeing
people sworn in to citizenship is moving to me. I go there for
that purpose. And then, right outside the hearing room where
the naturalization process is being completed, are registration
places. You can register immediately after you are sworn in.
And that is so exciting and so important.
And so I come here with the spirit that informs this
Committee, is that this is really an important hearing, and I
am so glad that you called it.
Now, three things. One, it is great to be bringing back the
retirees, but I have already been told we need about 3,000
more, and my friend, Dr. Gonzalez, who is leading this off--and
we are good friends, we are going to find out how good friends
before the year is out because we have all got to perform
together. He was in Detroit when we dedicated our new building,
or new Immigration building, now, of course, a larger part of
Homeland Security, and this isn't the most difficult Federal
task we have ever faced. I mean, look, we need a lot more
people and we need them fast.
Secondly, we need the fine counsel at the Department of
Homeland Security to waive the gift rule. I mean, come on, how
come one local government can't donate things to the Federal
Government? We don't need to go to the Supreme Court to figure
that one out.
And then, finally, there is the FBI name check issue in
which here we have got the Federal Bureau of Investigation
going over name by name, by hand, in all their dozens of
offices, trying to figure out who is who, and how do we get to
the name checks, and who is on the terrorist watch list. And it
becomes a big cumbersome operation when all we have to do is
recommend to our friend, Robert Mueller at the FBI, digitize
your files, my man. That is all you have to do.
Now, the fact that it hadn't been done before won't help us
now. But we have to expedite this process. We can't have people
waiting who paid their dues, anxious to go, ready to become
citizens, and we are saying, well, we are looking to see--we
have 14 guys with the same last name all over the U.S. and it
will take a couple months to figure this out, if this is the
right one or the wrong one.
Let's get organized. And we don't even have to have a
hearing with the head of the FBI to have this kind of meeting.
The Chairwoman can call him in and we can all meet with him and
say, look, speed it up. Do the best you can and let's get this
over with. So I thank you so much.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Conyers follows:]
Prepared Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr., a Representative
in Congress from the State of Michigan, and Chairman, Committee on the
The failure of the Department of Homeland Security to plan for a
surge of naturalization applications has placed us in a situation in
which over a million deserving people will have their dream of American
citizenship put off.
As a Committee, we have grappled with the immigration issue over
the last year. We have learned that there are a number of areas of
agreement. For instance, there is consensus that citizenship should be
encouraged and eased for those who have played by the rules, and that
immigration policy should encourage assimilation and participation in
There is no more important participation than the vote. All of us
who are honored to attend naturalization ceremonies are struck by how
seriously new Americans take that responsibility, and how excited they
are to be able to cast their ballot.
When the naturalization fees were raised last summer, the only
reasonable expectation was that there would be a surge in citizenship
applications. That has happened in every prior fee increase. And that's
exactly what happened this time. But there was little planning to deal
with the increase in applications, and where there was planning, there
was no urgency to implement the plan until long after the applications
were submitted and the backlog was created.
Moreover, we were told by the Department of Homeland Security that
if we went along with their 70% fee increase last year, we would see
immigration applications adjudicated 20% faster than they were early in
2007. At the time, naturalization applications were being adjudicated
within six months on average.
Now we have almost a million-and-a-half people who trusted that
they would be able to become United States citizens and participate in
the life of this Nation within six months, only to find out that they
will be delayed by up to eighteen months, many say even longer.
Many of these people applied for citizenship because they wanted to
become full contributors and participants in the United States of
America. But as a result of these delays, they will have to wait and
miss the most important action a citizen can take in a democracy--a
vote in this year's Fall elections.
Transparent and efficient immigration procedures are a civil rights
imperative, especially when other core constitutional rights are
implicated. While we work on the one hand to make sure that protections
are in place to prevent voter suppression, we have to also be on guard
against a back-door disenfranchisement of new citizens.
This year, we will be paying close attention to activities that
impede the ability of marginalized communities to go to the polls. In
past elections, we've seen people excluded because of photo-
identification laws and even just because there were too few voting
machines in minority precincts.
We expect that the Department of Homeland Security will spare no
effort to close this naturalization backlog and end this
Ms. Lofgren. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
If the Ranking Member of the full Committee, Mr. Smith, is
able to attend, he will also be invited to make an opening
In the interests of time and moving to our witnesses, I
would ask unanimous consent that the statements of all other
Members be submitted in the record within 5 legislative days
and, without objection, all opening statements will be placed
in the record. The Chair is authorized to declare a recess of
[The prepared statement of Ms. Waters follows:]
Prepared Statement of the Honorable Maxine Waters, a Representative in
Congress from the State of California, and Member, Subcommittee on
Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International
Madam Chair, thank you for organizing today's hearing on
Naturalization Delays: the Causes, Consequences and Solutions. The
growing delays in processing and completing naturalization applications
has become a critical issue that, unfortunately, appears to be getting
worse--not better. In my area, the Los Angeles office of U. S.
Citizenship and Immigration Services received over 185,000 applications
for naturalization in the first 9 months of 2007. I've been told that
by the end of 2007, the office in Los Angeles had approximately 145,000
applications pending, the largest number in the country. A 22%
completion rate is not sufficient to me.
Unbelievably, in a period of unparalleled technological
advancements, the Department of Homeland Security's agency responsible
for approving citizenship requests, is actually getting slower and
slower at processing applications. Granted, there has been an increase
in the number of applications, but still, with the technology available
in so many other areas, I do NOT understand why the average processing
time is taking three times longer today than previously--what used to
take less than 6 months, now takes up to, or, exceeds 18 months.
Just a few days ago, the New York Times published a very eloquent
editorial, called ``Refugees in the Cold.'' It highlighted the plight
of refugees--from places like Iraq, Vietnam, and Somalia--who have lost
limbs or their eyesight during violent surges in their old homelands.
They have managed to build productive lives here in the United States,
but because of DHS' failure to see the surge of citizenship
applications that would be coming, too many of these refugees are now
stuck in what the New York Times calls, and I quote, ``a bureaucratic
trap'' by a ``notoriously hapless citizenship agency'' that has failed
to complete the necessary background checks in time to meet the
``palsied bureaucracy's inflexible deadlines.''
No one at Homeland Security planned properly or sufficiently for
the surge in applications that was expected to occur when the new fee
increases were announced. Once again, DHS failed to prepare for the
predictable. While we continue to clean up from the results of poor
preparation in the Gulf Coast, we now have to fix the staggering
backlog of naturalization applications.
I'd like to thank our witnesses for joining us today and look
forward to your testimony as we consider the most timely and effective
way to fix the dreadful backlog of pending applications for
[The prepared statement of Mr. Schiff follows:]
Prepared Statement of the Honorable Adam B. Schiff, a Representative in
Congress from the State of California, and Member, Subcommittee on
Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International
I thank the Chairwoman for convening this hearing to discuss the
naturalization backlog. These delays have had a significant impact on
our communities, and I am hopeful that the testimony before this
Subcommittee will help us find solutions to quickly resolve the
In mid-2007, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services raised the
processing fees for naturalization applications from $400 to $675--
nearly a 70 percent increase. The fee increases placed a significant
burden on many families that wanted to take steps to adjust their
status and become American citizens. At that time, many Members of
Congress raised concerns that the fee increase would hinder the
naturalization of legal immigrants and their integration into American
It is not surprising that in the months leading up to the fee
increase, the number of naturalization applications filed with USCIS
grew tremendously, and consequently, so too did the application backlog
and the waiting times for applicants. Between the end of Fiscal Year
2006 and 2007, the number of naturalization applications increased 96
percent, from 473,467 to 926,864.
This dramatic increase in pending naturalization applications is
incredible, but it also is predictable and could have been avoided. The
USCIS has announced several steps that it is now taking to resolve the
backlog. In his testimony before the Subcommittee today, USCIS Director
Emilio Gonzalez notes that the agency has begun hiring 1,500 new
employees. They have also identified 700 retired employees to re-hire.
Given the estimate of 16 to 18 month processing times for
applications filed after June 2007, it is laudable that the USCIS has
taken steps to reduce the naturalization backlog. But these steps are
too little and too late. It still isn't clear to me why the agency
didn't take steps sooner to address the potential backlog. Even with
the new hires, there will be months between when employees are
recruited, hired, fully trained and are able to make a dent in the
Further, the delays are only exacerbated by the lengthy processing
times for the FBI name checks of applicants. USCIS must coordinate
better with the FBI to expedite these applications and impose a strict
deadline on the FBI for the completion of background checks. Some
applicants wait years for the name checks to be completed. In a recent
lawsuit, an application for naturalization has been waiting nearly five
years for completion of the FBI name check. These delays are
unacceptable, and I am a cosponsor of legislation that seeks to reduce
FBI name checks to no longer than six months.
In my district in Southern California, I have heard numerous horror
stories about endless waiting times for naturalization applications and
the FBI name checks. I have had to hire additional caseworkers to
assist my constituents navigating the bureaucratic naturalization
process. I have heard too many stories from constituents that have told
of the impact the application fee increase had on their family when
they had been saving up to submit an application for citizenship. These
stories are all the more devastating when they share their excitement
about voting in the upcoming Presidential election--a fundamental step
for a new citizen--and their sadness when they learn that their
application may not be processed in time.
Through the debate over comprehensive immigration reform in recent
years, it is clear that we all strive to encourage legal immigration.
Any additional burdens, such as endless application processing times
and significant fee increases, will only deter legal immigration. USCIS
must examine all possible options to reduce the naturalization backlog,
including the technological enhancements and the infrastructure
modernization, which were components of the justification for the fee
When the agency made its final announcement of its fee increase, it
reaffirmed its commitment to reduced processing times and cited a
processing time goal of five months. The agency must seek to meet that
goal and its commitment, and report to Congress on its performance.
I thank the Chairwoman again for convening this hearing on this
important subject matter.
Ms. Lofgren. We will now go to our witnesses. Our first
panel consists of Dr. Emilio Gonzalez who is the Director of
the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Prior
to his confirmation as Director in 2007, Dr. Gonzalez served as
the Director for Western Hemispheric Affairs at the National
Security Council and completed a distinguished 26 years'
service in the U.S. Army.
Dr. Gonzalez earned his bachelor's degree from the
University of South Florida in Tampa, his master's degree from
Tulane and the U.S. Naval War College, and doctorate in
international relations from the University of Miami.
With Dr. Gonzalez is Mr. Scharfen and Mr. Aytes as staff.
They are not witnesses, but we are going to ask them to come
forward and sit as resources to Dr. Gonzalez on technical
issues to help respond to questions if there are technical
issues that he wants to confer with them upon.
So we would turn to you now, Dr. Gonzalez, for your opening
statement. As you know, your full written statement will be
made part of the record. We do ask that your oral testimony
consume about 5 minutes. And when your 5 minutes is up, the red
light will go on as a warning to you. So we invite your
testimony at this point.
TESTIMONY OF EMILIO T. GONZALEZ, DIRECTOR, UNITED STATES
IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP SERVICES, ACCOMPANIED BY JONATHAN
SCHARFEN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR DOMESTIC OPERATIONS, AND MICHAEL
AYTES, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR DOMESTIC OPERATIONS
Mr. Gonzalez. Thank you. Chairman Conyers, Ranking Member
Smith, Chairwoman Lofgren, Ranking Member King, and Members of
the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to engage in
dialogue and answer your questions about the dramatic increase
in applications and petitions received at the U.S. Citizenship
and Immigration Services in the summer of 2007 and how we
intend to manage the resulting workload. I would like to invite
USCIS Deputy Director Jonathan Scharfen and Associate Director
for Domestic Operations, Michael Aytes, to join me at the able.
Today I am here to testify about our naturalization
workload, and I want to do several things. First, put that
workload into context for U.S. background; second, share with
you what we have done already to manage the workload; third,
share with you what we plan to do; and lastly, share with you
what we will not do. We will not compromise integrity or
national security in the name of productivity.
Last summer we received an unprecedented number of
applications and petitions for immigration benefits. In June,
July, and August alone, USCIS received over 3 million filings
compared to 1.8 million applications and petitions filed in the
same period during the previous year. This was a sudden surge
of significant magnitude. We received 1.4 million
naturalization applications last year, 400,000 in July alone.
Every application we receive is unique and every case we handle
deserves special attention. These are not just number on a
chart. These are people's lives in our hands.
USCIS employees understand that those who seek immigration
benefits are demonstrating a desire to enter into our
communities and enjoy the freedom and opportunity our Nation
can provide. We applaud their commitment and their interest. We
are committed to providing immigration services and benefits to
eligible applicants as expeditiously as possible. Our goal is
to implement the most immediate solution to this current
processing delay without short-cutting our commitment to
immigration integrity and national security.
Monitoring the situation in real time, USCIS was quickly
able to respond to the increased volume and implemented steps
to manage this new workload. As an agency, our first priority
was to accept filings and provide applications with proper
receipt notices as quickly and as efficiently as possible. We
accomplished this by expanding work hours, adding shifts, and
detailing 84 additional staff members to our service centers.
We also hired additional contract staff.
As early as June of 2007, we were able to inform the public
on the receiving process. And thanks to a committed corps of
our service center employees, we were able to meet our
commitment to process employment authorization cards for
individuals within the 90-day regulatory requirement.
Building on the foundation of the new fee rule, we refined
our human capital processes to more efficiently hire new
employees, train them and get them to the front lines. In the
past, we had resources to bring on and train one class of 24
students at a time. This year we will be able to conduct six
classes of 48 students concurrently on a rolling basis.
USCIS is currently in the process of hiring 1,500 new
Federal employees, of whom 723 will become adjudicators. In
addition, we will bring on over 1,700 more Federal and contract
employees to address the workload surge. In October of 2007,
vacancy announcements for new adjudicators attracted more than
10,000 candidates in only 6 days. Last week the Office of
Personnel Management approved our request to rehire experienced
annuitants to further bolster our workload with temporary
staff. This authority will help us meet our hiring goals upon
which our current production plan is based.
And I would like to take this opportunity to thank the
Chairwoman for introducing legislation to support the USCIS
hiring of retired annuitants. When we forwarded our request to
OPM we made sure that they were aware of the actions Congress
had taken in support of this effort.
We will couple our staffing with more traditional methods
of managing a large workload by asking current staff to
continue working overtime in shift work and detailing employees
to areas that have been most heavily impacted by the surge. By
maximizing the use the overtime early in the year, we will
boost productivity with existing employees while we work on
bringing on the new hires.
In addition to people, we are focused on technology. As
part of our efforts to transform the agency from a paper-based
environment to an electronic environment, we have identified
technological initiatives that will have a lasting and positive
impact. However, these and other combined efforts will prove
worthless should we forsake integrity and sound decision making
in favor of productivity over national security.
Since its inception USCIS has operated under a business
approach that emphasizes integrity as an overriding
consideration in processing, reviewing, and adjudicating
applications and petitions. Our decision-making process today
is more robust and thorough than it has ever been, an approach
we believe to be consistent with our obligation to individual
applicants and the Nation as a whole.
And since I am out of time, I will stop right there and
leave the rest for the record.
Ms. Lofgren. I thank you very much, Dr. Gonzalez.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Gonzalez follows:]
Prepared Statement of Emilio T. Gonzalez
Ms. Lofgren. We will now go into the time when Members have
an opportunity to pose questions to you, and I will begin.
I understand from you and your staff that the agency signed
an MOU, a Memorandum of Understanding, with the FBI last year
to address the background check issues, and that it was
anticipated that the improvements in the business processing
aspects with the FBI and the additional staff and the like
would result in a 40 percent improvement on the backlog, but
that, in fact, it didn't turn out that way and that you are
continuing to work with the FBI to try and improve this backlog
Along with that, I know, for example, in my own district,
companies that have key employees that, some of these people
have waited years and are now bringing mandamus actions in
Federal Court to require the FBI to either say yes or no, you
know, after 4 or 5 years. I am wondering where we are with the
FBI. What is anticipated in terms of backlog reduction? And
also how many lawsuits have been brought against the agency
because of the FBI name checks? What is the status of those
lawsuits? How many are still pending? And if you can just give
us a glimpse into the future of that.
Mr. Gonzalez. Thank you, Madam Chair. The FBI name check
issue is one that has concerned me, quite frankly, since I
started in this job. And the reason it is so concerning is
because even though the FBI is responsible for conducting these
name checks, when an applicant delivers their packet to us, we
are the face of the U.S. Government. They look to us to
adjudicate their file. A lot of times it is very difficult for
them to understand, well, we gave it to another agency to work
My deputy, Jonathan Scharfen, came on board in July of
2006, and, recognizing the criticality of the FBI name check
issue, because it touches everything we do--it touches our
legal department, I get sued 500 times a month. I can tell you,
I can break that down how many of those are mandamus. My
legal--Office of Chief Counsel spends an inordinate amount of
time defending me in court. A lot of judges out there are very
frustrated with the number of immigration cases they have to
Ms. Lofgren. Do you know how many there are in terms of on
the FBI check per se?
Mr. Gonzalez. We have had over 5,000 lawsuits filed last
year and 80 percent of those involve name check issues.
Ms. Lofgren. Wow.
Mr. Gonzalez. In addition to, I might add, this affects our
agency because of the FOIA requests. Our agency, USCIS, is
responsible for about 80 percent of the outstanding FOIA
requests that the Department receives, because folks are
frustrated and they figure if they can't get an answer one way
they will get an answer----
Ms. Lofgren. So the picture I am getting is, although it is
handed off to the FBI and it is they who have not provided the
information, not you, this is gumming up the works for your
agency as well because of FOIA lawsuits.
Mr. Gonzalez. The net effect is that we are the ones on the
front lines and we are the ones who have to deal with it. The
point I was getting to is when I brought Jonathan Scharfen as
my deputy, I wanted to elevate this as high as I possibly
could, and Jonathan has been charged since day one with
engaging the FBI and working with them to come to an agreement
on how best we can move these files while not sacrificing
integrity or security.
Ms. Lofgren. Nobody is suggesting that, but we want this to
be done efficiently and promptly.
Mr. Gonzalez. Yes, ma'am. And if I may, I would like to
defer to Mr. Scharfen, who has actually been running this day
by day and was instrumental in crafting and moving forward that
MOA with the FBI.
Mr. King. Madam Chair, just a point of inquiry. As the
witnesses speak, may I ask a question of the Director on the
Ms. Lofgren. Yes, absolutely.
Mr. King. Thank you for that clarification.
Mr. Scharfen. Thanks you, Mr. Director. The FBI name check
process, as you understand we have been working with both the
FBI and with this Committee to ensure that we start to
implement first some process improvements and also some
resources, plussing up the resources on that.
As to the process changes, we did enter an MOA that looked
at the type of cases that were being reviewed between the FBI
and the USCIS, came to an agreement based on both efficiency
and national security grounds that we were comfortable on and
ventured that MOA. Unfortunately, as you mentioned, ma'am, it
has not produced the numbers on the current workload that we
expected. However, it has shown some benefits in terms of this
surge. What we have not seen is an increase in the numbers of
FBI name checks since this surge work.
Ms. Lofgren. I can see my light is on. I will take the
privilege of the Chair to go over slightly. We may want to have
the Director come in, and you as well, because the FBI needs to
explain what they are doing as well, and why the files have not
Just briefly, as the Ranking Member was talking about how
moving it is to go to these citizenship hearings, I remembered
a swearing-in in San Jose, and a little girl who must have been
about 7 or 8 years old, literally doing cartwheels after the
ceremony and saying yea, Mommy, you are now an American like
It was such a precious moment and that is really what is at
stake there. All these people who want to be Americans, and it
is so important that those who are eligible be able to join us
as Americans here today. And that is why this hearing is being
held. So I will stop now and recognize the Ranking Member for
Mr. King. Thank you, Madam Chair. And picking up with that
theme, I would note remarks made by the Director in the Old
Executive Office Building to those who were recipients of
citizenship that day and he pointed out the window and said,
look out the window of that house next door--that is the White
House, by the way--and the occupant of that house after this
day is no more American than you are.
You couldn't do that in another setting in America, and
that is something I will always remember.
Director, I appreciate your testimony, and I take you back
to my opening remarks about Citizenship USA. I would ask are
you aware, are there any staff people that you have today that
were involved with Citizenship USA back in 1995 through 1996
Mr. Gonzalez. Thank you for the question. If I could just
regress a little bit, Madam Chair, nobody takes naturalization
more seriously than I do. I am a naturalized citizen and, in
fact, in a lot of the ceremonies I conduct, when I read the
oath it is a copy of the oath that I signed when I was 12 years
old. And it is the immigration file that I had pulled out, and
it is the same oath and I, too, get very moved. So we take our
work very, very seriously and that is why we are putting forth
the effort that we are doing to address this.
Sir, with regard to Citizenship USA, the answer is yes.
Quite frankly, that was about 10 years ago, 12 years ago. Much
of our staff today was around when Citizenship USA happened. I
will tell you that one of the things that we did, quite
frankly, is as soon as we started working on our plan to
address this backlog, is I pulled out the report from the IG in
the Department of Justice on just what went wrong with
Citizenship USA. We read it, we passed it around, we had our
senior staff read it. And the issue was, there were really
grave mistakes that were committed in Citizenship USA in an
effort to move files, to move people to naturalization. And we
wanted to make sure that those were not repeated and we wanted
to sensitize our leadership that there is a right way of doing
things and a wrong way of doing things, and we are not going to
sacrifice quality and we are not going to sacrifice security
for the sake of production. The results of that IG
investigation, sir, are very damning back then, and we want to
make sure that we do not repeat that.
Mr. King. And yet, Director, you are under significant
amount of pressure to be able to deal with this backlog that is
a bubble on the graph as I look at it.
And now a little bit about workload from my private-sector
life, and when I see an annual workload there, I try to figure
out how I am going to do an equivalent amount in each week and
month to be able to arrive at that goal. Because I want to
avoid the idea of putting on a temporary staff and then laying
off that temporary staff and adjusting to that as if it were an
emergency. I would rather be able to swallow that
How can you level that thing out and get that done in that
fashion? And I think I would take it to this other question
which is--in my remarks I took it back to the 13 percent that
asked for naturalization in more recent years, and I understand
those numbers have jumped up dramatically. That is why we are
here. But what has been the patience level of lawful permanent
residents in the process toward citizenship? Can you tell me
what the average number of years that one will wait before they
actually apply for citizenship and want to move ahead? Five
years is the statute, but is it 10 or 12 or 20; what do we
Mr. Gonzalez. Sir, we don't have that level of detail on
that information. I can tell you anecdotally that a lot of
people applied for citizenship this past summer who had been
legal permanent residents for quite some time. And I will add--
and I will be very, very frank with you--this is a good thing.
That people want to be citizens of this country is a marvelous
thing. We have to do our part. But they have done their part.
And the fact that folks want to no longer be observers of the
American scene but be participants in the American scene should
be applauded. And I say what I mean because everywhere I go and
I give a speech for a naturalization ceremony, I encourage
people to become citizens. That is the only way your voice will
Mr. King. I am very well aware of that, Director, having
witnessed that myself, and I appreciate that sentiment and
share that with you. Also in my opening remarks, I mentioned
about 180,000 who were naturalized during that citizenship USA
process that probably should not have been.
Do you have any information on the numbers of those people
that would have had their citizenship revoked, and could you
speak about how difficult the citizenship revocation process
is? And would you in fact agree it is, for practical purposes,
Mr. Gonzalez. Yes, sir. ICE, the Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, is the agency responsible for revocation of
citizenship. It is extraordinarily hard to take citizenship
away from an individual once it has been granted. I will defer
to Deputy Director Scharfen here for more details on that.
Mr. Scharfen. Yes, sir. We don't have the numbers of how
many were denaturalized from that process. There were a number
of proceedings that were initiated. However, as the Director
pointed out, it is a very difficult process and it is incumbent
on us to get the process right on the front end, and that is
why we have the naturalization quality procedures in place that
were born of that 1996 experience. And that does two things:
One, it sets in procedures that have to be followed very
carefully in all the naturalization process for our
adjudicators; and then there is a quality control on top of
that where you have quality control officers and supervisors
checking off the naturalization process to ensure that those
procedures are being implemented. And those procedures range
from doing the security checks properly to making sure that the
A file is collected properly. And that it is done very
carefully, according to these procedural checklists that the
officers work from.
Mr. King. Thank you. I will submit a couple of questions
for the record. And I yield back to the Chair.
Ms. Lofgren. Thank you. The Chairman of the Committee has
asked that we recognize our colleague from Illinois, Mr. Luis
Gutierrez, for questioning.
Mr. Gutierrez. I thank the Subcommittee Chairwoman and the
Chairman of the full Committee for this opportunity to ask
questions. First of all, I want to express to Dr. Gonzalez that
I believe that he has a commitment to helping people become
citizens of the United States and the rights of immigrants here
in this country, and that that is not in question. Many times,
maybe we shouldn't have to make those clarifications, but I
think that is an important one. And whatever differences we
have on this issue are differences of policy and of priorities
maybe sometimes, but certainly not personal commitment. And I
thank him for all of the hard work that he and his staff does.
I would also like to take a moment to thank all of the
community-based organizations that helped to generate this 1.4
million new citizenship applications. It really was a community
process. What a wonderful process in America where people take
time out that are citizens of the United States to help others
engage in this wonderful process. And without them we would not
be here. We want to continue to encourage them and to continue
to encourage the linkages.
Having said that, I also want to say that this hearing is
about how we help the people become citizens of the United
States, how we quickly and efficiently grant them citizenship
of the United States of America after they have made that
application. I think it does absolutely no good to continue the
demonization of immigrants by returning back to issues that
happened 10 years ago, to continue to talk about citizenship
and in the same vein talk about criminals becoming citizens
when we know that is not happening today. It does no good. It
continues the process, and that indeed that massive increase in
those that have applied to become citizens of the United States
has a direct correlation of the actions of this very Congress
of the United States in demonizing those immigrants in the kind
of xenophobic anti-immigrant attitudes that the Congress the
United States has taken. And I am proud that those immigrants
that can come forward, that can defend themselves, that can
become naturalized, have done that. What a great process. That
is the American process. But let's not demonize them for doing
the right thing, for incorporating themselves into our great
American system. I think that is wrong.
I didn't come here this morning to attack anybody about
what might have gone wrong. That is pretty good for headlines,
pretty good for the media, and might make us feel all self-
worthy here today, but in reality it won't help one single
person obtain American citizenship. And in this case, yeah, I
would like them to become American citizens before the next
election. I would like them to become American citizens in a
quick, timely fashion because they did pay twice as much.
Immigrants are paying today twice as much to become citizens
because the financial resources were put forward.
So, Dr. Gonzalez, I heard in your testimony that, on
average, you receive 700,000 applications for citizenship on an
annual basis. Is that correct, Dr. Gonzalez?
Mr. Gonzalez. Yes, sir.
Mr. Gutierrez. And last year you received 1.4 million?
Mr. Gonzalez. Correct.
Mr. Gutierrez. So you received 100 percent increase in the
number of citizenship applications in your department.
I understand that 60 percent of that 100 percent increase,
6 out of 10, happened in 1 month, the month of July.
Mr. Gonzalez. 400,000.
Mr. Gutierrez. Of the 700,000, so approximately 60 percent
happened at the very last--in the very last month.
Now, I would like to say the following because I know the
time is running out. That is, if you could put in writing to us
what were the steps that you took as a department to be ready
for what you anticipated as an increase. You knew it was
coming, you could see it coming, because there was already
300,000 more. And you knew that last month was going to add--
you know, everybody is going to come, many people are going to
come at the very end to do that--what kinds of steps you took
to make sure?
And secondly, I am very, very interested, because time is
of essence here, what are the steps that this Subcommittee,
under the able Chairmanship of the gentlelady from California,
can take to help address getting people through the
And lastly, I would encourage us to call the FBI to stop
talking about memos of understanding and memorandums of
understanding, and stop calling simply the Director of
Citizenship here, and call the FBI before this Subcommittee and
find out why is it that they are failing miserably, miserably,
in adjudicating these names. Because, Mr. Gonzalez has said--
and we recognize it--it is a big problem.
So I would hope that the next time, with the same vigor and
the same energy and the same vocation that we make sure that
Mr. Gonzalez does his job, that we make sure that the FBI is
doing its job, because if we do not hold both departments
accountable we will have failed in our task to meet our goal
and our responsibility and our commitment to those immigrants
becoming citizens in a timely fashion. And I thank Dr.
Ms. Lofgren. By unanimous consent, the gentleman is given 1
additional minute so the Director may answer. And I would note
for the record, as I indicated previously, it is my intent to
ask the FBI to come forward and provide some insight into what
they are doing to correct and digitize their files.
Mr. Gonzalez, do you want to briefly respond to Mr.
Mr. Gonzalez. Thank you, first, for your kind words about
not only my commitment to citizenship, but my entire agency is
committed to citizenship. Our 16,000 Federal employees and
contractors all share the same goal, which is a transparent,
effective and efficient Immigration Service within a security
We did see this coming, and we did make plans, and, as you
mention, will be more than happy to get you these later. But as
we saw an increase throughout the year, say from January
through May, June, the increase was manageable, and it was an
increase that did not affect our processing times. And what we
did not anticipate, and I will be very honest with you, is a
350 percent increase in 1 month.
The issue for us is not one of resources to address this.
The issue for us, quite frankly, is one of capacity.
And I will get back to you those steps that we are taking
to address the capacity issue, because every single file is an
individual, it is a family, and they are all very, very
different. And we are required to interview every single
individual that applies for citizenship. That is not something
that we will not abdicate, we won't subcontract, we won't
outsource; that is our inherent responsibility.
So the issue then becomes how do we get more professional
immigration officers into the pipeline to the front lines to be
able to address all of these waiting files. And those are the
actions that we have taken. And I am actually very proud of the
fact that our employees have stepped up throughout the country
to try and address this.
Although you see graphs like that, I will tell you that our
work is retail. There are some cities where the surge was
astronomical. There are some where it was negligible. So I
think that as we look at this from a global perspective or
national perspective, you are going to find that in those
cities where the populations are high and the filings were
massive, those folks could expect a longer wait than in cities
where, quite frankly, the wait is negligible. But I will, sir,
get those questions to you.
Ms. Lofgren. Thank you, Director Gonzalez.
We will now turn to our colleague from Texas, Mr. Gohmert,
for his questioning.
Mr. Gohmert. Thank you, Madam Chairman, and I really
appreciate your having this hearing. I was hoping we would have
more of these in the last Congress, and I appreciate the chance
to do this now.
One of the things--and I appreciate the Director calling me
yesterday so we could talk before this hearing, and additional
information that is provided my office this morning--but one of
my concerns has been as I talk to people who would try to
utilize the immigration service, it sounds like they have got
more success with Third World countries' Immigration Service
being more efficient than ours.
We had one case in which we had a Belgian company that
wanted to open a plant in my district, and they were going to
hire all East Texans for the plant, except they just wanted
their manager to be from Belgium. And after over a year of
trying to get something done so we could get the manager in
from Belgium, so we can get East Texans jobs, they just hit a
brick wall. I have talked to their immigration attorney in New
York. He said that they were told if oh, gee, you are tired of
the delay, if you will pay another $1,000 on top of what you
have already paid, we will expedite it. That moves it along. So
they paid $1,000. Some months later they said what happened to
the expedited procedure and were told, Oh, well, it did
expedite one part; but if you will pay another 1,000 they will
expedite another part. And so they paid another 1,000 and
eventually after they had been held up for the extra fees, we
got a manager and we hired some East Texas folks who were out
When I talked to the ombudsman for the Immigration Service
at the end of last year and saw in his report--and I know,
Director, you disagree, from what you said yesterday, with some
of the findings, but his indication was that whereas the
President at one point had said, I believe it was like 1
hundred million more into the Immigration Service to move
things along, that by delaying the processing of applications
and taking much longer, that actually the Immigration Service
was able to generate an additional $300- to $350 million, if I
recall accurately. I haven't found that graph yet. But I would
just like you to address that, the additional fee issue that
may have arisen by delaying applications, get your response to
Mr. Gonzalez. Thank you, Mr. Gohmert.
First of all, I would like to, for the record, take issue
with the ombudsman in accusing this agency of essentially
sitting on files for the sake of generating revenue. That is
clearly not the case. It doesn't happen, to my knowledge. In
fact, when those comments are made, I take it personal and my
staff, rightfully so, is offended by that.
That having been said, when we came back and we testified
last year regarding our fee increases, one of the things that
we mentioned was the fact that even though our fees were going
up an average of 66 percent across the board, we were writing
into those fees any additional delays that we would have, so
that an individual would not have to come back and get another
work authorization or have to refile.
So essentially, once the new fee structure came in, any
delays would be--any cost in delays, would be absorbed by this
agency. So I am not--if this is still a comment being made by
the office of the ombudsman, I would venture to say that it is
done with inadequate data.
I don't know if my colleagues would like to comment as
Mr. Scharfen. I think that covers it. I think the new fee
rule takes that issue out of play, sir.
Mr. Gohmert. By the way, can we have a second round of
questions? There are not many of us here.
Ms. Lofgren. I think, given the number here, that will be a
good idea. We do have a second panel but we should have plenty
of time to get to them.
Mr. Gohmert. One of the ombudsman's recommendation, page 62
of the latest response--and by the way, the material I was
forwarded was a response to the 06 report rather than the
latest information that we have from 07. But anyway, one of the
things they mentioned on page 62 was a problem of lack of
communication between the headquarters of CIS and the field
offices, and also a problem with the losses of paperwork when
things were transferred.
I have another issue in my district where a man, sister and
mother, had been in the U.S., been citizens for years. He has
had an application pending for over 10 years. Just over halfway
through that process, he was told the paperwork was lost. Just
resubmit the paperwork, which was apparently a mistake, because
he started from all over again with a new number rather than
continuing with the other number. And we are told that his case
should come up for adjudication some time this year, hopefully
not too long. But in the process, he had to pay additional
So even though I don't know that the ombudsman was saying
that there was an intentional delay to increase fees, that
appears certainly to be one of the results.
Some people have interpreted some of our concern about
illegal immigration as meaning we don't wants immigration. We
do want immigration. It is the strength of this country. I
think the melting pot is a great concept that has really made
us strong. But it has got to be legal. But then again, we need
a CIS that moves applications, that doesn't make us look like a
Third World country. And I would like your comment on the issue
of losses of paperwork, lack of communication between
headquarters and field offices, and what may be done to improve
Mr. Scharfen. Yes, sir, I will take them.
Ms. Lofgren. Gentleman is recognized for an additional
minute so that he may respond.
Mr. Scharfen. I will be very quick, sir. First of all, as
to the paperwork, that is always going to be a problem with an
agency that does between 6 million and 7 million transactions a
year, when it is still a paper-based agency that is still using
mail to mail different folders and files around the country.
The whole purpose of the transformation program is to transform
the agency from a paper-based system to an electronic system.
And one of the benefits to that will be that you will have
better accountability, better speed, and better recordkeeping.
We have over 100 million records in this agency that we
have gotten in different parts of the country that we manage in
our records facilities. On top of that, you have the annual
flow of documents coming in that are paper-based. We are going
to move away from that in the next 5 years during our
transformation process and move to an electronic digitized
system, and that should help that significantly.
As to the speed of processing applications, first, under
the new fee rule, there is no financial benefit to the agency
on delaying of any type of application processing of the
Second, also with the transformed procedures, the speed
with which we process those applications should be increasing.
As to communications, let me just answer it in terms of our
current challenge here with the naturalizations. I can assure
you, sir, that we have been having routine and recurring
meetings with our field managers on the challenges that we face
with processing the naturalizations. Mike Aytes here has a
meeting, I believe next week, with his production managers, who
are his regional and service center directors, and they are
going to be talking about just these sorts of things, about the
processing times and the challenges that the ombudsman spoke
Finally, in terms of communicating with the public, we have
a robust program where we have been trying to get out the word
about the processing delays, both in Web sites and in large
phone calls with our different stakeholders, which the
ombudsman has been a part of as well.
Ms. Lofgren. Thank you very much. At this point, the
gentlelady from California, Ms. Sanchez, is recognized 5
Ms. Sanchez. Thank you. I want to thank the Chairman of the
full Committee for being so kind as to yield.
Dr. Gonzalez, as a Member of Congress, we encounter
casework in our district offices. And as a result of some of
the inefficiencies that my constituents experience with your
department, I would say 85 to 90 percent of the casework that
comes into my district office are people who have inquiries
about the status of their immigration applications; 85 to 90
percent of every problem that constituents bring to my office
is immigration-related. And I applaud your effort that you take
this work seriously and want to help reduce the backlog.
But so long as I have been a Member of Congress and have
served on this Subcommittee, which has been 6 years now, we
have had the problem of backlog. And we seem to talk a lot
about the inefficiencies and talk about the challenges. And yet
through various initiatives we try to work, Congress tries to
work to help give the tools that are necessary to help reduce
that backlog, and yet the waiting times keep getting longer,
not shorter. And I find that incredibly frustrating because I
am the one that has to deliver news to the constituents that we
just don't know why it is taking so long.
In June of 2007, CIS ombudsman Khatri issued an annual
report to Congress, and included in that report were several
recommendations to the agency of how to reduce the backlog. I
am interested in knowing if you read that report. Did you?
Mr. Gonzalez. I did. And we have responded to that report.
Ms. Sanchez. So what types of recommendations that were
included in the report, if any, has the agency implemented?
Mr. Gonzalez. Okay, first off, I will get to your first
point and then I will defer to my colleague, Mike Aytes.
I understand the frustration when you have casework on
immigration. If you look at this from a macrolevel, we as an
agency are able to satisfy our applicants within the respective
time periods that we tell them about 95, 96, 97 percent of the
time. Regrettably, because of the volume we encounter, that 3
or 4 percent of people that have problems adds up to a fairly
large universe of folks.
Many times the waits that you are talking about are waits--
and without seeing an individual case, because this is
individuals we are talking about here--it is hard to say
whether it is a problem with us, whether it is a problem with
another agency. It may very well be a problem with that
individual, whether there is paperwork missing from their file.
There are a lot of moving parts in processing an immigration
Ms. Sanchez. I understand it is very complex.
Mr. Gonzalez. It is so complex we need immigration lawyers
Ms. Sanchez. And I understand that. But that shouldn't be
an excuse for the types of waits that people are experiencing.
These are just--we called late last night the office: Just give
me some of the current casework we have got.
I will give you one case. Constituent originally filed for
naturalization in October of 2005. She passed her civics and
English exam in February of 2006. All of her friends who
applied for naturalization after her have already been sworn in
as citizens. Her case is still pending. And every 6 months she
gets notices to get her fingerprints taken over, because they
That is the second question I have. Why do fingerprints
expire, and why do they have to keep resubmitting them?
There was an issue where her mother was sick, and this
particular constituent is from Taiwan, and she was afraid to
visit because she was afraid she might miss a notice of her
And I have seven or eight just that they pulled off the top
of the stack last night, similar types of circumstances where
people have been waiting since 2004, 2005, 2003, you know,
other than, well, the system is complex and, well, we have to
wait for something.
Can you understand why, as a Member of this Subcommittee, I
have been here for 6 years and heard about the backlogs and the
waits are getting longer, why that is particularly disturbing?
Mr. Gonzalez. I would agree with you that there is no
excuse for an unnecessary delay. Again, from what you just told
me and not seeing this file--and I would be more than happy to
take it from you and if you give me more details we will look
into it--it could well be that this person has already been
interviewed and they have already passed the citizenship and
English test. It may well be that it is hung up in another
aspect of the process, being a name check.
With regards to the fingerprints, we are addressing that.
We are creating a biometric storage system now as part of our
transformation program where we will store fingerprints.
Fingerprints don't change unless people want to physically
alter them. This is an issue we are addressing.
I will have my deputy, Jonathan Scharfen, address other
Mr. Scharfen. I see we have--the light is on, ma'am--but
what we can do is two things. The Director is correct; we have
as part of our transformation program a program that we hope
will start showing results by this summer.
Ms. Sanchez. Can I get that in writing?
Mr. Scharfen. We will get youa letter on describing the
program on the FBI check.
Ms. Lofgren. We will be having a hearing on the FBI name
check, if I may interrupt before recognizing the----
Ms. Sanchez. I realize my time has expired. Many of these
people have their background checks completed and there is
still a delay. With that, I will yield back.
Ms. Lofgren. Chairman of the full Committee, Mr. Conyers.
Mr. Conyers. Thank you very much. This is a great hearing.
I want to first point out that my dear friend, the Ranking
Member Steve King is sounding very good today. This is his good
day on immigration. If you have heard him, he can really hit
some good high points. And I am glad we are looking at this,
Steve, in a very constructive way. You are on the top five list
of people who are considered to be the leaders of criticism
about immigration in general. But I have got Judge Gohmert
working with me, and we are continuing the process of keep hope
Now here is the problem that is developing, Dr. Gonzalez.
You have heard us all. Every time there is a fee increase,
there is a bump in citizenship applications. You don't have to
take Statistics 101 to figure that out. So LULAC, SCIU, NALEO,
all those citizenship drives that alert you. So we know this
thing is coming. And all I want you to know is that we have got
to get to the bottom of this. I want you to review my opening
remarks very carefully. They didn't have your name on them. But
I need you to think through this thing in the detail that is
characteristic of this Committee. And let me tell you this,
this is not going to work. Talking about, it is not an issue of
resources but an issue of capacity.
Now, if this isn't an issue of resources, I don't know a
resource shortage when I see it. We are real short, and we have
got to do something about it real quickly. That is the whole
thrust of us all coming here today. And so I need you to put
your thinking cap on, bring all your sharp men and women
together here and let's get about this thing, because you need
some resource help like nobody else I know of in government. So
let's get going on that please.
Ms. Lofgren. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ms. Jackson Lee was
next. I don't know if she is in the--oh, Ms. Jackson Lee has
reappeared and is recognized for 5 minutes.
Ms. Jackson Lee. Let me acknowledge the importance of this
hearing to Dr. Gonzalez is that we are talking about legal
immigration. And I have listened to my colleagues as I have had
a number of meetings, and I will discuss a wide range issues
that don't seem to appreciate that the difficulties that we are
having and the difficulties that are being addressed have to do
with people lining up to engage in the process legally. And I
think that should be reaffirmed. I too want to acknowledge a
number of groups who participated in naturalization ceremonies
in my own community of Houston, Texas, which remains a very
large highly diverse community and with a sizable immigrant
population. The naturalization ceremonies are teaming.
And complementing that process are organizations like the
League of Women Voters who are there, ready to provide an
opportunity to express yourself through the election process.
And they are registering people to vote. And I did not hear the
entirety of my good friend from Iowa's comments, but I hope we
can applaud the fact that people are being naturalized, albeit
we are here to discuss the delays, and I will raise those
questions, but they are also registering to vote. Rightly so.
They are doing the paperwork. They have documentation, and they
have the best documentation, which is the immediate document
that says, you are now a citizen. So I am not sure how we are
in conflict when citizens register to vote, albeit they may
have a different name, a different faith or they may be a
recent citizen. We want to applaud that.
The second thing I want to acknowledge is, Dr. Gonzalez, we
need, in spite of the waning hours of this Administration, we
know that the President just spent a good week in the Mideast
to regain some status on the whole question of the Mideast
peace process. I think he needs to spend some time in the
Nation's cities and States who are suffering under the lack of
action by this Congress, and the need for the utilization of
the bully pulpit on the idea of comprehensive immigration
reform. It is of high priority, and I want to see a White House
I frankly believe that all things are possible, and I say
that because the evidence of what is happening today and the
delays is partly a recognition that one, people clamor for
citizenship, and two, those who are undocumented for a variety
of reasons would, in fact, engage in the process if we had a
process. I might, in fact, ask you that question as to whether
or not the Administration is still committed to comprehensive
immigration reform, is my first question, recognizing that I
had hoped you won't take up a lot of time on the question of
border security because that is a given. My question is, are
they still committed to the idea and the concept of finding a
way to have people access legalization?
Mr. Gonzalez. Thank you, Ms. Jackson Lee. I think the
President is pretty much on the record as having backed
immigration reform. He spent a great deal of political capital
trying to move immigration reform. I count myself among those
that was very disappointed when we didn't achieve immigration
reform. In fact, I found myself in a situation where I was
speaking to about 500 Hispanic leaders, and 5 minutes before I
was supposed to speak to them, immigration reform crashed. And
here we had 500 people expecting me to talk about immigration
It is one of the worst days of my life. Whether this is
going to be resurrected, I can't answer that. I genuinely
believe that we cannot sustain as a Nation some 12 million
people that are in this country illegally. That number may be
higher, that number may be lower. But if we use the number of
12 million people, that is the population of Belgium or the
population of Ecuador if we want to use our hemisphere.
By not engaging in immigration reform, I think we do a
disservice to this country because you can't have this many
people living in our midst and we don't know who they are, we
don't know what they are doing, we don't know what they look
like, we don't know what their pasts are. And we don't know--
most of them, I would say, a large number of them are probably
hard-working people, but some of them may not be. So I would
hope that immigration reform is something that will be
resurrected. Proper immigration reform. And I say proper
because it can't be all things to all people.
And a personal level, because I do take this very
seriously, and I was involved in the discussions, we need to be
able--and I may be philosophizing here but you gave me the
Ms. Jackson Lee. I ask the distinguished Chairman for me to
at least put two sentences on the record.
Ms. Lofgren. Without objection, the gentlelady is
Ms. Jackson Lee. Dr. Gonzalez, I don't want to cut you off.
I know this is passionate. Did you want to finish your
Mr. Gonzalez. What I was going to say is, I think it is
going to take effort from the executive, and it is going to
take effort from this body because I don't think we can wait 2
or 4 years to address the issue of those individuals who are
living amongst us who are beyond the law or who are outside of
the legal statement.
Ms. Jackson Lee. We needed that statement. Let me just
quickly make these two points. And I know that if we have a
second round, you may answer them even in my absence. I have a
security briefing that may be occurring. But we cannot overlook
the crisis of the FBI watchlist. I know the Chairwoman is going
to have that. I am presently dealing with a mountain of cases
of doctors who are here, trying to serve our communities who
have been in limbo now for 5 or 6 or 7 years. That is the first
thing. The second is, the delays are intolerable. And what I
will encourage you to do, and I understand you may be looking
at it, is to build capacity.
Let us go to the historically Black colleges, Hispanic
serving colleges, let's recruit people on the ground that can
be trained, that can make the dream come true, which is, this
is a government that works. People who access the system in the
legal way should not be punished, should not be the victim of
their own commitment to legalization. And that is what is
happening with these extensive delays. And I hope that you will
take that offer up.
Mr. Gonzalez. Thank you, ma'am.
Ms. Lofgren. The gentlelady's time has expired. We will now
go to a brief second round. And I will begin.
Dr. Gonzalez, in the past--it is only this last year, I can
say this, that I have served longer in local government than I
have served in the Congress. And I recall when I was in local
government, the county really did care about all of the people
who lived in the county, U.S. citizens, legal residents, and
people trying to get their residence. And from time to time
when there were huge backlogs, we offered the then-INS
assistance. We gave space for free to the INS.
We actually had a little back and forth at the time, we
provided clerks from the court who had actually background
checks that the INS employees didn't even have to assist the
agency to get their job done because we were so frustrated with
the delays. It is my understanding that the Department of
Homeland Security is prohibited from accepting help or space at
a free basis from others, including local government, because
of a gift rule that didn't exist with the Department of
Justice. Is that still true? And what do we need to change so
if the school district wants to donate the school auditorium
for a swearing in ceremony, you can accept the donation of that
Mr. Gonzalez. Thank you for the question. It is not that
the Department is not allowing us. One of the things that we
have gone to the Department for is the ability to use say the
university, nonprofit organization, a city hall or a city
Ms. Lofgren. Sure, can you do it.
Mr. Gonzalez. To give us classroom space so we can
interview people on weekends, on nights.
Ms. Lofgren. Whether it is swearing in or office space.
Mr. Gonzalez. For us it would be with naturalizations is
not have to do it in the same building but we could do shift
Ms. Lofgren. Right. Does a gift rule prohibit you from
Mr. Gonzalez. We as an agency are not allowed to accept
those types of facilities.
Ms. Lofgren. What do we need to do to change that?
Mr. Gonzalez. Well, the Department is already in the
process of putting together a proper policy memo which will
allow not just our agency but all the other agencies within the
Department of Homeland Security to accept that sort of support.
Ms. Lofgren. Well, I am talking to Secretary Chertoff on
another matter in about an hour. Maybe I will raise this with
him in addition to the other matter we are talking about.
I want to talk about how we can work together being
individual Members of Congress and your department--to make
this work better. Before Christmas, I gave you a memo that was
prepared by a lawyer on my staff in San Jose, pointing out that
the information officers in the San Jose office was giving
incorrect legal advice to people who were seeking information
and further will no longer give information to congressional
I haven't yet gotten an answer to that. I am raising it
here today in the hopes that I will get an answer. But the
point I am making is that all of our offices, are pulling in
the same direction. I have case workers, Mr. King, everybody
has case workers trying to sort through the facts. In fact, I
have hired three immigration lawyers in my office, all of whom
you know are experienced in this. I have one who taught the
course. I mean, they go and correct the misinformation that is
given by information officers who don't know the law. So how do
we work together, if our staffs can't get access to the
information obviously with the permission of the applicant,
then we can't help solve problems and make sure things go well.
How do we work better in that regard, Dr. Gonzalez?
Mr. Gonzalez. I can't address the issue of that individual
you just mentioned.
Ms. Lofgren. It is not an individual. It is me. It is my
office that will not get information.
Mr. Gonzalez. Exactly. Your office received erroneous
Ms. Lofgren. Not just once. I mean, multiple times, dozens
Mr. Gonzalez. At the agency level--and not to address that
particular individual or that particular office. But we are in
the process right now of making major investments in our
training program. We want to not only recruit the very best
individuals, we want to train them to the very best of our
Ms. Lofgren. Our time is almost up. If a congressional
office--I mean, the individual, whether it is a citizen
checking on you know their spouse or whatever the matter is,
they called and now they get--the information office they can't
get any information. So in desperation, they call the
congressional office. And if we are given the same access to
information as the person making the inquiry, which is nothing,
then they are going to sue. And so you are going to have
instead of 500 lawsuits----
Mr. Gonzalez. We are very familiar with lawsuits.
Ms. Lofgren. You are going to have a lot more. It would be
a lot smarter for the Department to say, okay, if you have got
a written release from the applicant because we have privacy
issues and you have got an office that is trying to sort
through this in the best interest of everyone to provide the
facts and the information and then we can help bring this to a
resolution, wouldn't that be a good idea?
Mr. Gonzalez. I would be more than happy to sit with you
personally, or have my staff and your staff get together and
see how we can put our heads together and try and find an
adequate solution, yes.
Ms. Lofgren. I would appreciate that.
Mr. Gonzalez. I would welcome that.
Ms. Lofgren. Mr. King, you are now recognized for 5
Mr. King. Thank you, Madam Chair. As I listened to the
questions asked by the gentlelady from Texas, and Director,
your response to the question about whether you support and
endorse the Administration's comprehensive immigration reform
policy and your answer, as I recall, was that you are concerned
that this Nation needs to do something within the next couple
of 3 years. We can't afford not to.
Conceptually, and I think I am there at least with that
analysis. But my question then arises out of that response as I
consider that the technical part of your job wouldn't be
dealing with what policy might be coming out of it, but what
the policy that actually you are charged with enforcing.
So I would have to ask you, does that philosophy that you
espouse here before this Committee that you share with the
President of the United States, as I understand it, does that
affect the way you do your job? And how is that viewed by the
16,000 employees at USCIS, as they carry with them a certain
philosophy, how does that affect their work, does it affect the
way do you perform your job at all?
Mr. Gonzalez. My opinions on the need for immigration
reform reflect the President's in that because we are part of
Homeland Security, I view immigration reform, any immigration
reform through the lens of Homeland Security. Do we need to do
something about 12 million illegal people here? Yes, we do. It
is not my position to decide what we do. It is something that
needs to be worked out through the executive, through the
legislature. But I genuinely believe that having that many
people here that we don't know anything about is not a good
thing. It is not a good thing.
Now we can argue about what the remedy is, but I would
venture to say that on a personal level, the status quo is not
acceptable. Now with regard to my employees, do understand that
by definition, all of my team that my employees deal with are,
in fact, legal. So we are a player in the immigration reform
legislation or we were because we would inherit and we would
have to process anybody who were legalized. But people who come
to my office for benefits are, in fact, here legally. And if
they are not or we find out through a data check that somebody
is in our office, even though they may be legal, but there may
be an outstanding criminal warrant for them, we detain them.
Mr. King. By definition, they are here legally but they may
not be here legally because they could have fraudulent
documents that got them to that point, to be in your office.
But that is not really my point so much--well, it is part of it
and is encompassed in it. But the thing I am more interested in
is that I have never been able to understand the rationale of
the Administration or the people who advocate for comprehensive
immigration reform, and it is a very polite name that has been
advocated that way. How this Nation is safer when you legalize
12 million or more people that are crossing the border under
restraints and concern about being caught in the process who
now would have more opportunities to cross the border, not
less, because they could cross legally and illegally if they
And if we move people through the process and grant them a
z visa or whatever we might, to give them temporary status
here, to let them get in line for a permanent status, how is
the Nation safer when we make people who would not have a
background check done on them in the early stages of this of
the z visa side? How is America safer if we legalize people
without knowing about their background? And if we have 4
million people coming across this border in a given year
illegally, that huge human haystack of humanity, and in it are
the needles that would be criminals, drug dealers, those
elements, terrorists, that we are concerned about, how is
America safer by legalizing the hay and presuming that the
needles will emerge if we legalize the hay because we will be
legalizing some of the needles as well, will we not?
Mr. Gonzalez. The border issues you mentioned is not
something we involve ourselves with. But the issue of
immigration reform at large--and we could talk about this
forever is--again, and I will say that the Administration, the
President expended a great deal of political capital in trying
to move the ball forward in trying to address a problem that to
this day is not being addressed. We can disagree as to what the
processes may be.
We could disagree as to what the qualifications might be. I
certainly don't advocate nor have I run into anybody that has
advocated an amnesty program because an amnesty program is
something that I don't think anybody would support. We have to
be able--and this is something that we carry with us--coming to
the United States and being a citizen or being a resident, this
isn't like going to a retail outlet and paying your money and
saying, I want something now. It is a process. And we have to
be able to tell people no if they don't qualify. And if we
can't tell--even if it is a minority of the people no, then how
do we tell the majority of the people who are truly deserving
yes? I genuinely believe that something needs to be done----
Mr. King. I thank the director. I will ask for an
additional 15 seconds.
Ms. Lofgren. Without objection.
Mr. Gonzalez.--needs to be done with regards to immigration
reform. Do I have all the answers? No. But it is clearly--I
think that the status quo is unacceptable. And I think that if
we come back 4 years from now and have a hearing like this on
immigration reform, then the numbers will be much higher.
Mr. King. I will just conclude with a definition of amnesty
and that is to pardon immigration lawbreakers and reward them
with the objective of their crime, and I think that policy does
constitute amnesty. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. Lofgren. Without objection, I would like to add to the
record the report from the Congressional Research Service on
their analysis of the trends and would note that no one is
saying you don't have the right to say no. The problem is, when
you don't say yes or no for an extended period of time, there
is a problem. I would recognize the gentlelady from Texas, Ms.
Jackson Lee, for her second round.
Ms. Jackson Lee. Thank you very much, Madam Chairwoman. And
you are absolutely correct. I think Dr. Gonzalez captured it in
his, I think, very important statement in my earlier question.
But the point is, is that rules allow to you say yes or no.
Framework allow to you say yes or no. And I take issue with my
distinguished friend from Iowa simply to suggest that a
framework that has people penalized for their present status,
but then gives them an opportunity to access legalization is
not in the true sense of the word rewarding people for their
And I believe that the status of being unstatused is still
a civilian or a civil issue unless you have perpetrated a
criminal act. And so you can be deported not criminally, but
you can be deported for failing to comply with the rules of
immigration. And I hope we can decipher that so we can move
I want to focus on the testimony that you had that
indicated how often you have been sued and over 80 percent of
those cases were FBI watchlists. And my question, if you can
specifically speak to the causes of that delay and on average,
how long do these name checks take? And how can we get the FBI
to expedite the process? But in the course of your answer--and
I have three questions. I am going to lay them on the record
now so that you can quickly answer all of them. What is the
relationship that your agency has with the FBI? How can we help
facilitate that better even though we may haul them in here to
this hearing, you won't be sitting at the table.
So how can we extend an olive branch that says, we believe
in security but we want to see this process work so that
doctors or nurses and people who are here to try and be
contributing are not delayed? The other question is for those
who applied for naturalization in 2007, do you expect that you
will finish your work in 2008? And would you answer my question
that I gave you at the end of my statement in terms of
outreach, what are you doing to expand your recruitment and to
build capacity so that possibly you would answer the former
question about getting the job done in 2008? And I, again,
thank you for your work as well.
Mr. Gonzalez. Thank you, ma'am. I will start backwards. We
do have--we do have an outreach program. We advertise our
positions. We received 10,000 applications for adjudicator
positions that we advertised in a period of 6 days. We are
reaching out to historically Black and Latino colleges and
universities to ensure that we maintain a very healthy, diverse
workforce within our agency.
With regards to the naturalization applications and whether
those individuals will be--the individuals that applied last
year will be naturalized this year in a very general term, and
I will turn it over to my deputy for specifics. It is really
going to depend on where they file. And it is going to depend
on how clean their file is.
Again, it is very, very difficult to look at all these
applications as one and say, well, we can do this in x number
of months because they are not all the same--there are a lot of
moving parts. And each individual application is very, very,
very unique. Now, there are some cities where we received a
deluge of applications. There are some cities where we didn't.
So again, this is retail work. I can tell you that we are
working these as quickly as possible. I would be remiss if I
told you definitively that by such and such a date, we will
have approved x number of cases because that would be
dishonest. And I don't think that we want to go to a position
where we are going to require our employees a quota system
where you have to do this many cases because that would just
invite cutting corners.
We want to make sure that we continue our processes, that
we continue being secure, that we continue to promote quality
and assurance that the work that is being done is being done
within the framework of homeland security. I will defer to my
Ms. Jackson Lee. My time is running out. So I want you to
get to the FBI and other questions.
Mr. Scharfen. Yes, ma'am. As to the FBI name check, our
relationship with the FBI has been a close one recently as we
have tried to work together through this shared problem with
the FBI. We have had meetings between the deputy secretaries
and the deputy director of the FBI. We have worked through to
reach an agreement on the MOU about the way in which we would
do the files searches. But the bottom line is that the FBI has
an antiquated paper-based system that they are only beginning
now to transform. And so we have to manage an old system. What
that means is that unfortunately to a large degree, we have to
throw manpower--people at the problem. And that is being done
now. For instance, the FBI has hired 221 contractors to date
and also has increased their full-time employees by 20. They
used to have 20 full-time employees working this issue for us.
Today they have, as I said, 221 contractors working it and 40
full-time employees working it.
Ms. Lofgren. The gentlelady's time has expired.
Ms. Jackson Lee. Madam Chair, I think that is outrageous
not to blame the witnesses, but contractors already send
nightmares in terms of security, and I hope that we can address
this question head-on. I think it is an abomination. I thank
the Chairwoman for yielding. I yield back.
Ms. Lofgren. I recognize the gentleman from Texas, Mr.
Mr. Gohmert. Thank you again, Madam Chairman. I would like
to follow up on that a bit. One of the concerns has been that I
have had has been the security clearance of the benefits
adjudicators and director. We had discussed that briefly
yesterday. And it continues to be a concern. And the
information that we are provided indicates that--of course,
since 9/11, things are gotten tougher in making sure that
adjudicators, those who are checking the name or seeking name
clearance and reviewing those files had adequate security
clearance and that, as I understand from the information we
have been provided today, that employees, perhaps over 3 years
have been grandfathered in to be allowed to review the name
check system and that newer employees are being required to
have the security clearance.
But you know, and I so much appreciated the comments in
your introductory remarks that although we do want a
streamlined process so we don't appear to be the worst of the
third-world immigration services, at the same time we can't
afford to lose security. The MOU with the FBI was mentioned.
But I had been concerned, and apparently there is a basis for
it that we have had people that should not be utilizing the
name check system potentially in adjudicator status, reviewing
those and making adjudications.
So I want to know what kind of security efforts have been
made? And hopefully, redoubled.
Mr. Aytes. Sir, if I may, Customs and Border Patrol Agency
which manages Tex, the system that you are referring to, did,
after 9/11, raise their standards for security clearances. We
worked with them. We incorporated them----
Mr. Gohmert. You don't disagree with the need to raise the
Mr. Aytes. Not at all, sir. We incorporated those standards
for all of our new hires and we have worked with them to work
out a plan where over 3 years we will raise the security level
of all of our existing folks who have access to that system.
But all of the employees who had access to that system today
had the necessary security clearances at the level that CBP had
previously required. So this is an issue of raising standards
and applying those standards to our existing workforce as
quickly as we can rather than on unqualified employees having
access to records.
Mr. Gohmert. Anybody else want to add anything on that?
Okay. I noted in the ombudsman report, there is a reference to
work-at-home challenges. And in view of the problems with
taking computers home that we saw with the Veterans
Administration, it kind of scared me to see that even though we
have taken up the issue in this Congress about, you know, some
businesses should have that flexibility. It may be that some
government functions can be done just fine from home. But when
we are talking about this Nation's security, it concerns me to
hear there may be a work-at-home program. Is there a work-at-
home program where important security information, private
information is taken to people's homes?
Mr. Scharfen. We do have a work-at-home program, sir. And I
will get back to you with regards to the specific security
arrangements that are applied to that working arrangements. But
I know that we have them. We have discussed it. And one of the
offices that just within the last couple of weeks, we were
discussing just this issue and our information technology chief
information officer has also, I believe, looked at this issue.
But we will get back to you with details about that, sir. It is
Mr. Gohmert. Well, it certainly concerns me, and I would
like to know more about it because I have a real problem with
the security-sensitive situation of taking work home. Just
seeing my time is about to----
Ms. Lofgren. Would the gentleman yield? I will grant by
unanimous consent an additional minute for him to yield.
Since the agency, as I understand it, is not yet there
technologically, so you could have a secure either biometric or
password-secured telecommute, would it be true that if there is
a work-at-home program, employees are taking paper files home?
Mr. Scharfen. I will have to get back to you on that issue.
That can be the case, ma'am. But it is a limited program, and
we will get an answer to you.
Ms. Lofgren. I thank the gentleman for yielding, and he has
an additional minute.
Mr. Gohmert. Thank you for that very intuitive question.
Well, just in conclusion, one combined question here. But there
has been a recommendation by apparently not just the ombudsman
but many others to provide clearer instructions, provide
information on the actual rejection criteria, use less
legalese, particularly in the quest for additional information,
and that if there is a checklist that service centers use to
make sure that all information is properly in, that the
checklist be provided to people as they make applications.
Now we have had hearings in the past year on possibly
reduce--or increasing the fees. And I think the Chair and I
have had disagreement. I don't have as much problem increasing
fees if we can do it in such a way that we cut out the
legalese, allow people not to pay $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 to
attorneys that may not actually be needed. But if we can
streamline that process where they can apply without an
attorney, pay a little more money to get it done through the
system, I don't have a problem with that. But with regard to
these recommendations, what if anything is being done?
Mr. Aytes. Sir, we absolutely agree on that score. And we
have a group of folks who are looking at all of the
instructions for our application forms with the idea being to
focus them more toward individual customers. Right now there
are a combination where if you are filing for a particular
benefit, the instructions may be the same on the same package
as for another customer who is seeking something else.
We are going to focus them, make them far more specific and
incorporate checklists of the kinds of documentation that needs
to be submitted not only to have your case accepted, but to
have your case adjudicated.
Ms. Lofgren. The gentleman's time has expired. We may be
able to further explore these issues later. The gentleman from
California is recognized.
Mr. Berman. Thank you, Madam Chair. And I apologize for not
being here for the testimony. And I gather that a number of the
questions I had have been asked and dealt with.
One issue I just wanted to--I don't know if I am asking in
response, although following up on a specific individual might
be useful. But this is someone from my district. He files his
naturalization application in February of 2006. After much
effort, he learns that he was part of the name check backlog
and was advised by your agency that they could do nothing to
speed things along.
The problem was with the FBI. But then when we called the
FBI--oh, and when he called the FBI, he was told that they only
work on the name check cases prioritized by your agency. In
other words, you had a situation of each agency putting the
blame on the other agency. In this case, the individual had
gone through and received a security clearance before applying
for naturalization for the purpose of government employment.
Now I am unaware of a process for that, but that is what he
says he did. So he got his security clearance, according to
him, but he hasn't been able to get through the FBI for the
background check for naturalization. It would seem to me that a
security clearance background investigation would be even more
rigorous than a background check for naturalization purposes.
And he believes the thing that caused his name--the reason
there was a name check at all was because he had applied for a
And of course, he still hasn't gotten any date for a
naturalization hearing. He hasn't been approved. And I am
wondering if off the top of your head you have any reaction to
the anomaly here of somebody being security cleared but can't
get his FBI background check through for a naturalization.
Mr. Gonzalez. Sir, I am not familiar with the process of
granting a security clearance to someone who is not a citizen.
But I would be happy to look into it. If your staff could get
me the file, I would be more than happy to take a personal
interest in it and get back to you.
Mr. Berman. I would be grateful if you would. Thank you,
Ms. Lofgren. Thank you, Mr. Berman. And it appears there
are no further Members here. So we will thank the director and
his able staff for being here. We look forward to working
further with you on these issues. And we will now ask the
second panel to come forward.
Mr. Gonzalez. Thank you, Madam Chair. And I wanted to
reiterate our willingness to work with you and your staff on
issues on mutual interest and how we can move these matters
forward. I appreciate your patience today. Thanks.
Ms. Lofgren. Thank you. All right. Let's ask the second
panel to come forward. And as you do, I will introduce you.
First, I am pleased to welcome Arturo Vargas, the Executive
Director of the National Association of Latino Elected and
Appointed Officials Education Fund. Prior to joining NALEO,
Arturo Vargas was vice president for Community Education of
Public Policy of the Mexican American Legal Defense and
Education Fund, or otherwise known as MALDEF. He has been
included in Hispanic Business Magazine's list of 100 Hispanic
influential people twice and has been named one of the 101st
most influential Latinos, three times three times by Latino
Readers magazine. Arturo holds a master's degree in education
and a bachelor's degree in history and Spanish from Stanford
University, from my neck of the woods. And he is from Los
Angeles, born in El Paso Texas.
Next, I would like to introduce Fred Tsao, policy director
for the Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights.
Mr. Tsao provides technical support, training and presentations
on immigration-related topics to service providers, immigrant
community organizations and others who work with immigrants.
Fred practiced law at the Rockford Office of Prairie State
Legal Services where he worked after receiving his law degree
from the University of Michigan. A native of Chicago, Fred is
the son of immigrants from China and has had a life long
concern about immigration issues.
And it is also my pleasure next to offer Rosemary Jenks for
Numbers USA. Ms. Jenks has worked on immigration issues since
1990. Prior to her work with Numbers USA, she spent 2 years as
an independent immigration consultant, providing research and
legislative analyses to immigration reform organizations around
the country. Before that she was Director of Policy analysis at
the Center For Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based
think tank. Ms. Jenks received her JD with honors from Harvard
Law School and BA in political science from the Colorado
College. She is a member of the Virginia State Bar. She also
serves on the board of directors of the 9/11 families for a
As you know, your written testimony will be made part of
the official record. We would ask at this time that you provide
oral testimony that consumes about 5 minutes. When the red
light goes on, we will let you know and ask that you wrap up.
And we will begin with you, Mr. Vargas.
TESTIMONY OF ARTURO VARGAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL
ASSOCIATION OF LATINO ELECTED AND APPOINTED OFFICIALS EDUCATION
Mr. Vargas. Thank you Chairwoman Lofgren, Members of the
Subcommittee. It is actually great to see my birth State and my
home State so well represented on the dais this morning.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before you today to
discuss naturalization delays and their impact. For the last
decade, we have been at the forefront of efforts to promote
U.S. citizenship and to assist legal permanent residents with
the naturalization process. A year ago, along with our national
partners, we launched our national Ya Es Hora !Ciudadania!,
(It's time, citizenship!) campaign to inform, educate and
motivate eligible permanent residents to apply for U.S.
citizenship. And as Dr. Gonzalez testified earlier this
morning, the agency has received about 1.4 million applications
in 2007, nearly a doubling of applications over the previous
year. And there are several factors that contributed to this
First, newcomers are strongly motivated to pursue U.S.
citizenship because of the opportunity it confers to become
full Americans and to participate in civic life. Our campaign
strengthens and sustains the momentum of the increased
naturalization applications. The USCIS's July 2007 increase in
the fees to start the application process also contributed to a
dramatic growth in naturalization applications. During the
months proceeding the fee hike, the monthly number of
applicants grew significantly. The USCIS's application backlog
began to grow steadily as well, and applicants started to
experience longer processing times.
By October, the number of pending applications had
increased by 96 percent from the year fiscal year 2006. We were
concerned when the USCIS announced the estimate of a 16- to 18-
month processing time for applications filed after June 2007.
According to the Agency, about half a million legal permanent
residents submitted applications between June and October 2007,
and the estimates are that the actual number is actually
greater. We have seen that the demand for naturalization
assistance has persisted even after the fee increased. When the
USCIS announced its intention in August to require newcomers to
replace their legal permanent residency cards with no
expiration dates, many are choosing to naturalize as an
alternative to replacing their permanent residency cards. We
estimate that an additional 183,000 applicants would join the
more than half million affected by the Agency's announced
processing delay. This processing delay represents a
significant increase over waiting times in recent years.
When the Agency made the final announcement of its July fee
increase, it reaffirmed its commitment to reducing processing
times and cited a 5-month processing period as both a goal and
one of the justifications for the increase. Ironically, many of
the newcomers who will be affected by the Agency's delays are
the very applicants who had paid the higher fees. The
challenges to addressing the naturalization backlog is
exacerbated by problems it experiences with the FBI background
check process, as has been discussed by this Committee and in
its conversation with Dr. Gonzalez.
The USCIS has announced several actions to address the
backlog, as Dr. Gonzalez described in his testimony. However,
we understand that the Agency does not believe these measures
will have an impact soon enough to ensure that most applicants
who filed in 2007 will become citizens in 2008. We believe this
raises serious questions about why the Agency did not start to
take action earlier to address the impending backlog. We
provided the Agency with advance notice about our campaign and
the dramatic increase in applicants we thought it would help
produce. In April 2007, when many filed their comments on the
proposed fee hike, they expressed concerns about the increased
applications that they expected before the implementation of
the fee hike. We also believe that past naturalization
increases should have forewarned the Agency about the current
Several times during the past two decades the Agency
experienced consistent increases in naturalization applications
whenever a fee increase was announced and implemented and
whenever the Nation experienced a resurgence about the
immigrant sentiment, much like we experienced in 2007. We
believe the Subcommittee, the USCIS and those of us who work on
behalf of our Nation's newcomers share the common goal of
ensuring that all legal permanent residents who meet the
requirements for U.S. citizenship can have their applications
adjudicated in a timely and accurate manner.
We thus recommend the following: The USCIS must develop and
implement a comprehensive plan to significantly reduce future
processing times from its current estimates. The Agency must
ensure that all qualified applicants who filed in fiscal year
2007 are sworn in as citizens by July 4, 2008. In implementing
its backlog elimination plan, the USCIS must work closely with
national and local immigration advocacy and service providers
and private businesses that reach the newcomer community. On
the national level, the USCIS has regular meetings with
stakeholders on a variety of naturalization policy issues tht
have helped the Agency develop practical solutions to some of
its challenges and have helped the Agency gain valuable
knowledge about the impact of its policies on the immigrant
The USCIS must issue directives to the leadership of its
district offices to meet regularly with local naturalization
stakeholders. The Los Angeles USCIS district office is a model
of an extremely effective partnership between the office's
leadership and local organizations, and this relationship has
actually benefited the immigrant community and the district
office itself in carrying out its activities. The USCIS should
work with the Department of Homeland Security to examine
whether current policies and the acceptance of gifts by Federal
agencies from non-Federal sources needs to be streamlined to
enable the Agency to use the facilities and other
infrastructure provided by State and local governments to
assist with the backlog reductions, as the Chairwoman mentioned
The USCIS and the OMB and Congress must work together to
ensure expeditious approval of the Agency's reprogramming
request. The USCIS will need to spend more in fiscal year 2007
than what was initially approved by Congress to address the
backlog. The Agency has submitted reprogramming requests to the
Office of Management and Budget, and this has subsequently been
forwarded to Congress. We urge Congress to approve the current
reprogramming request as soon as possible.
Finally, the USCIS and the FBI must institute new policies
to eliminate the naturalization processing delays caused by the
complicated background checks. I think this issue has been
thoroughly discussed by the Subcommittee with Dr. Gonzalez. And
it raises the serious question about why the FBI is not
complying with timely background checks.
Ms. Lofgren. Thank you very much, Mr. Vargas.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Vargas follows:]
Prepared Statement of Arturo Vargas
Ms. Lofgren. Mr. Tsao.
TESTIMONY OF FRED TSAO, POLICY DIRECTOR, ILLINOIS COALITION FOR
IMMIGRANT AND REFUGEE RIGHTS
Mr. Tsao. Good morning, Chairwoman Lofgren, Members of the
Subcommittee. My name is Fred Tsao. I am the policy director of
the Illinois Coalition For Immigrant and Refugee Rights. ICIRR
is a coalition of more than 100 member organizations throughout
Illinois that works to build the capacity of immigrants and
refugee communities and to advocate for policies that will move
immigrants and refugees toward full participation in our
society. Thank you again for this opportunity.
I am proud to be the son of two naturalized citizens. My
mother took her oath in February 1964, 1 month before she gave
birth to me so I was there. My father became a citizen in
December 1971 after 22 years in the United States, including 16
years without legal status after barely fleeing the communist
takeover of China. Both of my parents applied within weeks of
becoming eligible. My parents understood the value of
citizenship. Fortunately, more and more long-term legal
immigrants are also realizing the importance of U.S.
citizenship. NALEO's Ya Es Hora campaign, our own New Americans
Initiative and other efforts across the country, have helped
legal immigrants understand how they can improve their lives,
find their voice and contribute further to this country by
becoming citizens. This has been borne out by the rising
numbers of applications filed all through 2006 and 2007.
Obviously, immigrants also understand the cost of applying
for citizenship. The prospect of a 70 percent rise in
application fees drove many immigrants to file sooner rather
than later. In January 2007 after USCIS made its intentions
known, the Agency issued an unprecedented 95,000 naturalization
receipts. The numbers jumped even further when the free
proposal was actually published. Starting in March and
continuing through July, USCIS averaged 120,000 receipts each
month. Months after the fee increase became final on July 30,
it was still issuing receipts for applications filed in June
and July. The result: projected processing backlogs of 16 to 18
months and would-be citizens who would miss this year's
elections through no fault of their own.
ICIRR opposed the increase as a brick in a second wall, a
wall that would keep legal immigrants from becoming citizens.
We warned that such a steep increase would create a surge in
citizenship and other applications that USCIS must be prepared
to handle and indeed could have seen coming as early as last
January. We joined thousands of organizations and individuals
in filing comments and worked with Congressman Gutierrez and
Senator Obama on a Citizenship Promotion Act that would, among
other things, would have frozen the fees. Yet the Agency
proceeded with the increase, failed to plan well enough for it
and got swamped.
So where do we go from here? We endorse NALEO's goal that
USCIS process these backlog applications by July 4 so that
these applicants can celebrate our Nation's independence as
U.S. citizens and vote this November. We are encouraged that
USCIS plans to rehire 700 retirees and recruit and train more
officers. USCIS should report to this Committee on its progress
not just in addressing the backlog itself but also in
implementing its staffing plans and other measures, all without
diminishing the integrity of the process. In the spirit of
cooperation, ICIRR is willing to work together with USCIS to
solve this problem.
Meanwhile, USCIS must address the 150,000 applicants whose
cases are stuck in name check delays at the FBI. Immigrants
with no criminal record from Russia, India and
disproportionately the Middle East must wait years for the FBI
to confirm that their records are clear. Congress has
appropriated $20 million to USCIS to fix the situation, and we
hope that USCIS and the FBI will plan wisely and spend these
funds efficiently. Both agencies should set clear goals and
timetables for addressing these delays and should report
regularly to this Committee on their progress. In closing,
ICIRR hopes that USCIS will muster the sound management and
additional capacity it will need to give prompt careful and
thorough consideration to all of the applicants now in its
We hope that this Committee will be watching closely to see
that USCIS keep the promise of citizenship and full
participation that our Nation has extended to these hundreds of
thousands of aspiring Americans. Thank you again for your
invitation and your attention.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Tsao follows:]
Prepared Statement of Fred Tsao
Mr. Tsao. I should note for the record that we have
submitted for the record of this hearing a letter addressed to
Dr. Gonzalez signed by 187 organizations and individuals
expressing concern about the backlogs and urging immediate
Ms. Lofgren. Without objection, that letter will be made
part of the record.
[The information referred to is available in the Appendix.]
Ms. Lofgren. And we will turn now to you, Ms. Jenks.
Welcome again to our Committee room.
TESTIMONY OF ROSEMARY JENKS,
GOVERNMENT RELATIONS DIRECTOR, NUMBERS USA
Ms. Jenks. Thank you very much Madam Chairwoman, Members of
the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear
before you to talk about how the growing delays in our
naturalization process should be addressed and how they
shouldn't be addressed. My organization, Numbers USA,
represents more than half a million U.S. citizens and lawful
permanent residents from every congressional district, every
walk of life across the political spectrum. The one thing they
all agree on is the value of U.S. citizenship because every
time they send a fax or make a phone call to their
representative from Congress, they are experiencing that value
directly. We believe strongly that naturalization should be the
goal of every LPR and the high point of the experience in
America. Therefore, it has got to be done in a timely way and
an efficient way but it cannot compromise the integrity of the
process of citizenship nor can it compromise America's
Almost 11 years ago, I testified before this Subcommittee
about the integrity of the naturalization process in the
aftermath of the Citizenship USA program, which Congressman
King mentioned. That program is typical of the way USCIS and
the INS before it addressed backlog reduction. They wait until
there is a crisis. Even though, as we have heard many times
today, the increase in numbers is almost always foreseeable.
They wait until the crisis is upon them and then they start
tying to react. The first thing they do is detail employees
from one part of the Agency to another even though they may not
be trained in how to adjudicate naturalization applications.
Then they start hiring temporary workers. We heard that is
already in progress. The problem is, again, the training of
those temporary workers is not always--not usually up to par.
When those things don't work, then the typical reaction is to
bring in an outside consulting firm and reengineer the process.
The results are not surprising. The result is chaos. In the
Citizenship USA program, the results were very instructive.
The KPMG Pete Marwick review after the fact found that of
the 1,049,872 immigrants who were granted U.S. citizenship
under that program, 71,557 had FBI criminal records. Of those,
at least 10,800 had at least one felony arrest. There were
180,000 who got no background check at all, either because
their fingerprints were illegible and therefore returned by the
FBI and not resubmitted, or because their fingerprints were
never submitted in the first place. That cannot be allowed to
In 1996 and 1997, when I was discovering the lengths to
which INS officials went to meet their processing goals, my
primary concern was the irreparable harm that was done to the
citizenship process. Today I am still appalled at the absolute
contempt they showed for the integrity of the process. But I am
more horrified by the certainty that the Citizenship USA
program gave the highest honor that America has to offer to
terrorists and their supporters. We have proof of that. We were
assured after that program that the process had been changed.
There was no possibility, Commissioner Meissner testified, that
someone could become naturalized without the FBI background
check being done. It simply couldn't happen. Well, it has
happened since then. It happened in 2002. There was an Office
of Internal Audit, then INS, report on how we naturalized a
known terrorist in 2002.
In 1998, Congress codified a requirement that the INS--
then, now USCIS--adjudicators receive an affirmative result
from the FBI indicating that all background checks, all
required background checks have been completed prior to
scheduling an interview. That means that in every one of the
mandamus cases that have been discussed here and every single
one of those cases since 1998, the agency broke the law. They
broke the law and therefore they are being sued. The suits
can't happen unless they do what they are not allowed by law to
do and schedule the interview before they get the criminal
check results back. But their own Federal regulations state
unequivocally that the naturalization interview may not be
scheduled until they have affirmative results from the FBI. And
yet, still, we know that it is still happening.
A March 16, 2006, USCIS internal memo includes a paragraph
that essentially says that they continue to violate the law
because of congressional and Presidential mandates on
processing times and backlog reduction. So because Congress is
pressuring them, they are breaking the law that Congress set.
For too long, we have focused on quick fixes, a crisis
arises and we, you know, scramble to deal with it. We have got
to get out of that mold. We have to go back and realize that
the basic foundation of the process is broken. It needs to be
fixed. Without a high-tech computer system, they cannot
accomplish the goals that we would like them to accomplish.
Without training, they cannot accomplish the goals. Their
personnel policies have to be taught to the employees, and they
have to all understand that nothing can trump national
security. And I will leave it at that. Thank you.
The prepared statement of Ms. Jenks follows:]
Prepared Statement of Rosemary Jenks
Ms. Sanchez. [Presiding.] Thank you for your testimony Ms.
We now will begin our first round of questioning, and I
will start with myself.
Mr. Vargas, my first question is for you. You state in your
written testimony that the most recent increase in the last
year was the third highest in our Nation's history in terms of
applicants. Given that fact, do you think that USCIS should
have been able to anticipate or at least respond better to the
increase in the applications for citizenship?
Mr. Vargas. Thank you, Congresswoman, for that question.
Absolutely. In fact, we ourselves saw it coming when the fee
increase was announced; the kind of debate this Nation was
having around the role of immigrants, we could have seen this
coming ourselves, and that is why we met with the USCIS in Los
Angeles and here in Washington to advise them of the impending
It was suggested that the increase would be isolated to
some cities such as Los Angeles, and states such as California.
But in fact the opposite occurred. It occurred throughout the
country. We believe this should have been anticipated. And as
Ms. Jenks said, now we are operating in crisis mode. This is
not the way to adjudicate applications for citizenship.
Ms. Sanchez. Thank you. And do you think that USCIS met and
responded adequately with groups such as NALEO to try to figure
out which would be the best solutions for trying to cope with
an increase in the number of applications?
Mr. Vargas. I think this is an example where we see some
inconsistencies of how the USCIS works with some organizations
such as NALEO. In Los Angeles we have an excellent working
relationship and partnership where we were able to identify
local challenges and come up with practical local solutions. We
wish that this kind of partnership would be replicated
throughout the country, including Illinois and Texas and Iowa
and New York so that the USCIS could benefit from the
experience of local service providers.
Ms. Sanchez. So I am assuming that NALEO, among many of the
other groups that helps with citizenship applications, sort of
I would assume, would be in a good position to understand what
some of the longest delays tend to center around and could
provide helpful advice in terms of how USCIS could sort of
tighten up their operations in order to address some of those
concerns that you see over and over again.
Mr. Vargas. That's right. And, in fact, sometimes we
actually end up suggesting to applicants that they do exactly
what you experience, Congresswoman, and refer to their Members
Ms. Sanchez. Thank you for that. We do receive quite a
number of inquiries in my office as a result. Thank you.
Mr. Tsao, did I pronounce that correctly?
Mr. Tsao. Yes, ma'am.
Ms. Sanchez. As you heard earlier from my questions I have
many examples of constituents who have waited 2, 3, and even 4
years for their naturalization process applications to be
approved. And these people have done everything that has been
asked of them. They have turned in all the paperwork. They are
not missing anything. They have passed their English exams.
They have, you know, their civic exams, and yet they are just
waiting and waiting and waiting.
I am interested in hearing what are some of the
consequences that you have seen as a result of the backlog of
immigration cases that haven't been cleared.
Mr. Tsao. Thank you, Representative Sanchez. We in Chicago
have seen quite a number of cases that have experienced delay.
Many of these delays, unfortunately, have to do with the name
checks. And these are gentlemen who have been waiting months,
if not years, for their names to clear. These are people
without criminal records. They have never had any trouble with
the law, and yet they are in this situation where they have to
Ms. Sanchez. How does that realistically impact them in
their day-to-day lives?
Mr. Tsao. Certainly quite a number of them would like to
travel back to their home countries as U.S. citizens, without
any possible obstacles of returning back to their countries.
There are a number of situations where we have refugees and
asylees who are elderly or disabled, who are reaching the end
of their eligibility for SSI benefits, and they would like to
become citizens. This is the income that supplements the
support they get from their families and from their
communities. And yet, because of the current 7-year bar, if
they are not able to accomplish their citizenship within 7
years, they will lose that support. As I understand, there is
legislation that would address this issue pending before this
Ms. Sanchez. Thank you. My last question is for all three
of the panelists, and I am going to pose a hypothetical
question to you. If USCIS were a corporation and Dr. Gonzalez
were the CEO of that corporation, do you think--this is your
personal opinion--that based on the work performance and the
outcomes of what the agency has produced, do any of you believe
that that corporation would still be a growing oing concern and
in existence at this point? Mr. Vargas.
Mr. Vargas. I think the shareholders would have some
serious questions about the management of the agency.
Ms. Sanchez. Thank you, Mr. Tsao.
Mr. Tsao. I would feel the same way, yes.
Ms. Jenks. It would have gone bankrupt years ago.
Ms. Sanchez. Thank you. I think that is a sad commentary on
the status of the backlog and where we are. And with that, my
time has expired, and I will recognize the Ranking Member, Mr.
King of Iowa.
Mr. King. Thank you, Madam Chair. I am amazed at the
naivety of everybody's response to that question. They have a
monopoly. Of course, they wouldn't have gone bankrupt. That is
one of the things we need to bring into a lot of different
aspects of government is competition. And that makes us all
better. That is my little point of my philosophy.
I turn, if I could, first to Mr. Vargas. And as I read
through your testimony and consider that presentation, you
talk--you write in your testimony that USCIS must take swift
and effective action to ensure that all the applicants can
realize their dream of U.S. citizenship, and a recommendation
was by July 4th of 2008.
What would be the highest priority of USCIS's job? Is that
it as you define it?
Mr. Vargas. I think the highest priority is to provide a
quality service for a reasonable price. And when they testified
before this Committee last year, when we discussed the fee
increase, that was exactly the point that I was making; that if
you are going to ask more financially of these applicants in
addition to everything that an applicant does, learn English,
follow the rules, take the test, demonstrate their loyalty and
faithfulness to this country, that they should receive a
The July 4th is just a goal, sir.
Mr. King. I understand that. But could you incorporate into
that philosophy the level that you put on our national security
and on the background check side of this? That seems to be
absent from your testimony.
Mr. Vargas. I don't think national security should be
compromised in any way. We also believe, though, that we could
achieve these goals simultaneously of ensuring our security,
ensuring integrity in the process, and also making sure that
applicants seeking citizenship are treated fairly.
Mr. King. Fair enough. And as I go to your point about the
FBI and the 90-day deadline, what would you recommend would be
the result at the end of 90 days if the FBI doesn't complete
the background check?
Mr. Vargas. I think that is an excellent question for the
FBI when it is called to appear before this Committee.
Mr. King. You wouldn't make a recommendation as to what
that consequence might be? There wouldn't be an implication in
your testimony that the process should go forward, that the
application should go forward.
Mr. Vargas. I think there should be a report from the FBI,
either to the applicant or to this Committee, as to why a 90-
day check cannot be achieved.
Mr. King. We are in agreement all the way down through this
testimony, through your response to my questions I should say,
up to and including that our national security shouldn't be
compromised, but we need to find ways to make government
efficient. And I agree with the substance of that testimony.
And I would turn to Ms. Jenks and your testimony. It seemed
that you had more to say when that clock ran out.
Ms. Jenks. Always.
Mr. King. I do know that. I would ask you about the
political dynamic that brought about Citizenship USA, and if
you might draw some comparisons between that time and this time
now in 2008.
Ms. Jenks. There are quite a number of comparisons, which
worries me. Of course, Citizenship USA was created because
there was a huge backlog due to the fact--well, several
factors, but one of them, the biggest, being that the aliens
who were given amnesty under the 1986 act had just become
eligible for naturalization and had applied, rightly so, in
There was also welfare reform and green card replacement
programs going on. That all drove more immigrants to apply.
This was entirely foreseeable and yet still the INS waited
until they were in a crisis and they had a massive backlog, and
then they started detailing employees from one part of the
agency to another, which we heard this morning is already
happening at USCIS. And then they started hiring temporary
workers, which we heard this morning has already started
happening at USCIS. And then, when none of that worked, and
there was still a lot of pressure from Congress, from the
applicants and from the White House, because an election was
pending, then they brought in an outside consulting firm that
reengineered the process. And the shortcuts that always seem to
be taken when any of these processes is reengineered is the
security part of it because that is what takes the longest.
Inevitably it is the security checks that take the longest.
Mr. King. Also has USCIS, have they gained more security
clearance and more investigators or have they lost them in the
last couple of years, to your knowledge?
Ms. Jenks. They have lost them. I don't know that they
have--they may still have two actually law enforcement
authorized people there. I think that is it.
Mr. King. The dependency is on the FBI and their level----
Ms. Jenks. Absolutely.
Mr. King. I make a point here, Ms. Jenks. If there were 10
million people who want to come into the United States and we
let 1 million people in a year, the average wait would be
roughly 10 years. And we get concerned about lines, but the
truth is that we have more applicants than we actually have
slots for, and that is part of this equation; would you agree?
Ms. Jenks. Absolutely. And that is not going to change
unless Congress changes the overall immigration law. The fact
is that this is an agency that is going to face crisis after
crisis after crisis after crisis if we are going to deal with
it in that way.
So until Congress steps in and exercises a firm oversight
authority and essentially forces them to step back and fix the
underlying system, get the IT system up--how long have we all
been hearing that they are going to become a digitized agency?
And today we heard, well, in the next 5 years we are supposed
to go--move out of using paper. Well, we have heard it over and
over again. When is it going to happen? It has to happen. You
cannot build a strong building on a weak foundation. It won't
Mr. King. But completing interviews prior to a background
check would be a waste of human resources that could be better
used, and I conclude that as a message to be given to this
panel as well.
And I thank you and all the witnesses for their testimony.
Thank you. I yield back.
Ms. Lofgren. Thank you. The gentleman yields back.
I would just like to close with a couple of comments rather
than questions. First, I think it is important that we not
pose, really, the false question of either we have to have
insecurity or inefficiency, because you can have both security
and efficiency; and that is, I think, what we are all striving
for here today.
Secondly, there is no quota on how many people who are
eligible to apply for citizenship get to be become Americans.
It is only all the people who are eligible and who want to be
Americans get to do that. So I think that it is important to
state that. And we benefit from that, we all agree on that.
Thirdly, you know, with 5,000 lawsuits being filed--and I
think all the Members here probably have run into it, where
people are tearing their hair out; it is 2, 3, 5 years and you
can't get a yes or no. I mean, you cannot get a yes or no.
And finally a lot of things are at stake here: whether you
can apply for your spouse, whether you can take the job you
have been offered at a defense firm. Many things. And so if we
can't get this under control, more lawsuits are going to be
filed, more agency resources are going to be directed toward
dealing with that, and it is a spiral downward. So we have to
get this done.
We had a workshop on information technology last fall, and
I was the only Member who was able to come, regrettably, but I
think we might actually do a hearing on that, because I think
there is total agreement wherever you are on the philosophical
issues of immigration, we have to have an adequate system here.
And we don't. And that is really also the problem with the FBI,
that they are still creating paper files in 2008, it is just
unbelievable. It is unbelievable. And it is not secure.
If you have to chase down files on agents' desks all across
the country, I mean, it is a problem for applicants for
naturalization. It is a disaster for managing caseloads in
terms of protecting us from people who want to do us harm. So
we really have to move into the modern age.
And I am hopeful that one of the things we can work
together on as a Committee--even we don't agree on everything
having to do with immigration--is to work together on a
bipartisan basis on efficiency and getting these systems to
work and having an agency that we can be proud of.
So a lot of people don't realize that the witnesses are
volunteers here today. We do thank you for coming to share your
expertise for all you have done not only today but for our
And at this point, we would invite Members to submit
additional written questions. We have 5 legislative days to do
that, and we will forward the questions to all the witnesses.
And if we do have questions, we would ask that you answer them
promptly. And for the record, the record will remain open for 5
legislative days. And we thank you again and this hearing is
[Whereupon, at 12:25 p.m., the Subcommittee was adjourned.]
A P P E N D I X
Material Submitted for the Hearing Record