Two House Democrats are calling on budget appropriators to double President Biden’s request for funding to process immigrant application backlogs.
Reps. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) and Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) wrote a letter to Reps. David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the chairman and top Democrat on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, in support of President Biden’s fiscal 2024 budget request but called on the appropriators to amp up immigration spending.
“We were encouraged to see that the President’s budget included discretionary funding to address the historic backlog of work authorization, naturalization, green cards, and other applications, as well as improve refugee processing,” Correa and Goldman wrote.
“However, we request that the committee increase this funding from the President’s proposal of $264 million to $400 million to support application processing and the reduction of backlogs within asylum, field, and service center offices, and an increase from $342 million to $425.9 million to fully fund the March 2022 asylum processing rule,” they added.
The two Democrats also called for $100 million to be added to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) citizenship grant, which awards money to groups that help prepare legal permanent residents for their naturalization process.
USCIS, the agency under the Department of Homeland Security that processes work permits, permanent residency and naturalization applications, is mostly funded by fees paid by foreign applicants.
That funding system over time has become a catch-22 for the agency, forcing fee hikes on one end, while restricting the amount and quality of services USCIS can provide.
In January, the agency proposed a new fee structure that would boost fee revenue from $4.5 billion to $6.4 billion. The public comment period for that rule ended mid-March.
According to USCIS, that hike would allow it to hire nearly 8,000 new personnel to address the growing backlog of applications.
“USCIS is facing a significant case backlog and processing times that have sharply increased in recent years. This has resulted in individuals falling out of status, families being separated, victims of crime remaining in abusive or exploitative relationships, and businesses losing needed employees,” Correa and Goldman wrote.
According to the lawmakers, the most recent USCIS data showed a backlog of 8.6 million applications and petitions in September 2022 and a 50 percent growth in wait times between fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2021.
But funding allocated by Congress to improve USCIS’s processing times translated into marked improvements for the agency, the lawmakers said.
“According to the agency’s December 2022 progress report, as a result of funding allocated by Congress in FY22, the agency was able to reduce the net backlog of naturalization cases, reduce processing times for a number of form types, and adjudicate nearly double the typically available number of employment-based visas in a given fiscal year,” they wrote.
Correa and Goldman, who were joined by 70 Democratic colleagues in their letter, said the USCIS “funding is critical in supporting our nation’s commitment to the American Dream and of a fair and humane immigration system.”
“The long-term success of USCIS and our immigration system greatly depends on the support and funding that the agency receives in order to address the current lengthy backlog and processing time that have kept visa applicants, asylum seekers, and other migrants in limbo for months or years,” the lawmakers wrote.