SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS Tables
Page 1 TOP OF DOC57224
PENDING AND ANTICIPATED CASELOAD OF NATURALIZATION APPLICATIONS
IMMIGRATION AND CLAIMS
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
MARCH 19, 1998
Serial No. 92
Printed for the use of the Committee on the Judiciary
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
For sale by the U.S. Government Printing Office
Superintendent of Documents, Congressional Sales Office, Washington, DC 20402
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
HENRY J. HYDE, Illinois, Chairman
F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, Jr., Wisconsin
BILL McCOLLUM, Florida
GEORGE W. GEKAS, Pennsylvania
HOWARD COBLE, North Carolina
LAMAR SMITH, Texas
STEVEN SCHIFF, New Mexico
ELTON GALLEGLY, California
CHARLES T. CANADY, Florida
BOB INGLIS, South Carolina
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
STEPHEN E. BUYER, Indiana
ED BRYANT, Tennessee
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio
BOB BARR, Georgia
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
ASA HUTCHINSON, Arkansas
EDWARD A. PEASE, Indiana
CHRIS CANNON, Utah
JAMES E. ROGAN, California
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
JOHN CONYERS, Jr., Michigan
BARNEY FRANK, Massachusetts
CHARLES E. SCHUMER, New York
HOWARD L. BERMAN, California
RICK BOUCHER, Virginia
JERROLD NADLER, New York
ROBERT C. SCOTT, Virginia
MELVIN L. WATT, North Carolina
ZOE LOFGREN, California
SHEILA JACKSON LEE, Texas
MAXINE WATERS, California
MARTIN T. MEEHAN, Massachusetts
WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts
ROBERT WEXLER, Florida
STEVEN R. ROTHMAN, New Jersey
THOMAS E. MOONEY, Chief of Staff-General Counsel
JULIAN EPSTEIN, Minority Staff Director
Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims
LAMAR S. SMITH, Texas, Chairman
ELTON GALLEGLY, California
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
EDWARD A. PEASE, Indiana
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCHRIS CANNON, Utah
ED BRYANT, Tennessee
JAMES E. ROGAN, California
MELVIN L. WATT, North Carolina
CHARLES E. SCHUMER, New York
HOWARD L. BERMAN, California
ZOE LOFGREN, California
ROBERT WEXLER, Florida
CORDIA A. STROM, Chief Counsel
EDWARD R. GRANT, Counsel
GEORGE FISHMAN, Counsel
MARTINA HONE, Minority Counsel
C O N T E N T S
March 19, 1998
Smith, Hon. Lamar, a Representative in Congress from the State of Texas, and chairman, Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Angus, James S., Acting Executive Director, Office of Naturalization Operations, Immigration and Naturalization Service
LETTERS, STATEMENTS, ETC., SUBMITTED FOR THE HEARING
Angus, James S., Acting Executive Director, Office of Naturalization Operations, Immigration and Naturalization Service: Prepared statement
Shaw, Hon. E. Clay, Jr., a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida: Prepared statement
Vargas, Arturo, Executive Director, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund: Prepared statement
PENDING AND ANTICIPATED CASELOAD OF NATURALIZATION APPLICATIONS
THURSDAY, MARCH 19, 1998
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Immigration
Committee on the Judiciary,
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 2:10 p.m., in Room B352, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Lamar S. Smith [chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.
Present: Representatives Lamar S. Smith, Edward A. Pease, Ed Bryant, James E. Rogan and Melvin L. Watt.
Staff Present: Jim Wilon, Counsel; Judy Knott, Staff Assistant; and Martina Hone, Minority Counsel.
OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN SMITH
Mr. SMITH. The Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims will come to order.
I know our ranking member just came from a Committee on the Budget meeting. We have other members who are on the way as well. We have other members, unfortunately, who are on their way home, because we have finished voting on the House floor for the day, but we still expect to have a good turnout, simply because this is such an important subject.
We will get through the opening statements as quickly as possible. We only have one panel today. We look forward to hearing from them.
I will recognize myself, and then we will go to Mr. Watt.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I have long felt and consistently said that everyone who is eligible to become a United States citizen should take that step, and everyone who applies for citizenship is entitled to have their application processed quickly and with no unnecessary delays. It seems to me a reasonable goal to process citizenship applications within 90 days, especially given new technologies available today.
The Naturalization Reform Act I introduced protects the integrity of the citizenship process. Because we hold such great respect for American citizenship, both naturalized and native-born, it is our duty to restore its integrity.
I am considering adding a provision to that legislation to streamline the citizenship process that takes too long. Congress should not mandate targets requiring a reckless acceleration of the naturalization process, though. That could lead to another Citizenship USA fiasco.
The result of Citizenship USA is that the INS is moving to denaturalize more than 6,000 people who were ineligible to receive citizenship. That must never happen again. But the abuses of the Citizenship USA program do not excuse any unnecessary delays in granting United States citizenship.
We can lead the INS to a new level of service for immigrants by setting reasonable goals within reasonable time frames.
There are many compelling reports of individual cases languishing for years. But anecdotal evidence is no substitute for accurate, reliable, system-wide statistical data on both the national and local levels. It is common sense to first ask that the problem be described fully and accurately. Then we will have the basis for bipartisan solutions to these problems.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Finally, Congress has a responsibility to get the American taxpayers good value for their money. Congress provided $210 million for improvements to the naturalization process last year. The American people need to be assured that their money is creating solutions, not red tape.
Congress and the American people should never have to choose between the integrity of the citizenship process and the efficiency that every applicant has the right to expect from the INS. Our citizenship process should grant United States citizenship to those who are eligible, deny it to those who are not eligible, and do it all quickly, consistently and efficiently.
I am pleased that the subcommittee can hold a hearing today on how we can help immigrants. Hopefully, we have put the necessity to hold oversight hearings on Citizenship USA behind us and can move on to other areas of immigration reform.
I often speak of citizenship as the highest honor that America can bestow, but it is also true that countless immigrants have bestowed an equal honor on America. They have brought us their skills and talents, their intellect and creativity, their patriotism and strong sense of duty and family.
From the willing hands and strong backs of previous generations of immigrants to today's crop of engineers and scientists, immigrants have left an indelible stamp on our Nation.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The economic successes that we enjoy today and the remarkable history of our great Nation are the tangible benefits of generations of immigrants working side by side with other Americans to build a nation. Citizenship is infinitely more than a piece of paper. It is a full share of our political freedom, economic opportunities and cultural richness.
We should be happy to welcome our immigrants as new citizens, celebrate their arrival and be thankful for their achievements and contributions to the American story. Providing good service quickly to immigrants is essential, because when we bestow the honor of citizenship, we confer the full hope of the American dream.
Mr. Watt, do you have an opening statement?
Mr. WATT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think I will be very brief and let us get on with the hearing.
I do want to applaud the Chairman for having the hearing and for his commitment to or endorsement of establishing ''reasonable goals with reasonable timetables and time frames for citizenship.'' We talked about that at the last hearing, and I assume it was that discussion that led to this hearing today.
One other element, of course, other than just setting goals and time frames, though, is the amount of resources we are willing to put behind this. I should point out that this $210 million that we are now asking be accounted for, a very small part of it was an appropriation as opposed to user fees that we are collecting. Having said that, if we are collecting fees, we need to make sure that people are getting the value for their fees that they should be getting. I hope that we can talk about whether that is happening, and if it is not happening, talk about ways we can assure that it does happen.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. SMITH. The gentleman from Indiana?
Mr. PEASE. No, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. SMITH. We will proceed and welcome our first panelist today.
Our principal witness is Mr. James S. Angus, Acting Executive Director, Office of Naturalization Operations. This is Mr. Angus' first time to testify in his new position. So it is a good time to start, since this is a very positive hearing on a positive subject.
Also, because you are the only person to testifyand I should say, you are accompanied by Ed Murphy, and I don't know if you want to introduce him in a minute as wellwe are going to be fairly relaxed today. We will not restrict you on your opening statements. We will not hold you to the 5 minutes, and I hope we will be able to get a lot of information from you in response to our questions.
Also, if there is no objection, we will enter into the record the statement of the Honorable E. Clay Shaw, Jr., as well as a statement by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.
[The information referred to follows:]
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
PREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. E. CLAY SHAW, JR., A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF FLORIDA
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to submit written testimony about a national problem that has had a significant effect on my Congressional district: the outrageous backlog of cases at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
Immigrants who live in Florida and other high immigration states when they apply for naturalization can face an almost insurmountable INS backlog. I have constituents whose applications have been acknowledged by the INS, have been waiting for almost four years and have still not been sworn in as citizens. There are other areas of the country in which applicants need wait only a year or less. This is unfair. At times it even appears to be regional discrimination that my constituents should have an exponentially longer wait than someone who files for citizenship in other parts of the country. Miami, clearly, needs additional personnel.
It is discouraging and unfair for people who apply for citizenship and have followed all the rules to be stuck in a bureaucratic backlog that practically encourages illegal immigration. These applicants have had legal permanent resident status for five years (three if married to a US citizen), have paid the application fee and are then made to wait for periods up to four years.
I would like to give you an example of the delay an applicant is forced to endure when applying for citizenship in Miami without any irregularities in the process: first the applicant sends an application to the Texas Service Center (because the Miami office no longer has room to store applications). The Texas Service Center sends a receipt notice, processes the application and holds it until Miami sends for it (15 to 24 months). Miami than requests and receives the file and schedules an initial interview (six to eight months). The interviewing officer then approves the application and it is sent to a supervisor for final review (six months). Finally, the applicant is scheduled for an oath ceremony. Unfortunately, due to the irregularity of scheduled oath ceremonies in Miami, and the resulting backlog, there is no way to realistically determine a time frame for this final and crucial phase of the process.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Not only is this system time-consuming, but it is also very inefficient and frequently disorganized. I have a constituent whose case files made the cross country trip from Florida to Texas and back again several times for no apparent reason. He first applied for citizenship in 1995 and his file is once again back in Texas, still waiting to be called to Miami so an interview can be scheduled. Please bear in mind the previously mentioned time frame; after three years, the process for him is just starting. Another of my constituents had her paperwork delayed in the transfer from Miami to Texas for nine months. In fact, it was stated at an Immigration/Congressional caseworker meeting in Miami that the Texas Service Center was still ''finding'' boxes from 1995. This is an example of egregious disorganization.
The district I represent comprises the highest percentage of senior citizens of any other congressional district. This would lead one to believe that the majority of the casework my staff handles is Medicare and Social Security. Yet, my staff has two and a half times as many immigration cases from people trying to work through the mess at the INS as Medicare and Social Security cases. The numbers are increasing every year.
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your willingness to hold this hearing today and your efforts to get to the bottom of this serious problem that continues to harm those attempting to become citizens in a legal manner.
PREPARED STATEMENT OF ARTURO VARGAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF LATINO ELECTED AND APPOINTED OFFICIALS (NALEO) EDUCATIONAL FUND
Chairman Smith, Subcommittee members and invited panelists, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund welcomes the opportunity to submit testimony to this Subcommittee on the naturalization caseload and the growing backlog of unadjudicated naturalization applications.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
The NALEO Educational Fund is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that empowers Latinos to participate fully in the American political process, from citizenship to public service. We carry out this mission by developing and implementing programs that promote the integration of Latino immigrants into American society, developing future leaders among Latino youth, providing training and technical assistance to the nation's Latino elected officials, and conducting research on issues that are important to the Latino population. The NALEO Educational Fund's constituency includes the more than 5,400 Latino elected officials nationwide.
During the last decade, the NALEO Educational Fund has been at the forefront of promoting U.S. citizenship among Latino legal permanent residents and providing quality, accessible naturalization services throughout the nation. As part of its efforts, NALEO has conducted community workshops in Southern California, Chicago, New York Houston, and other communities, which together have assisted over 100,000 immigrants in becoming U.S. citizens. Our toll-free U.S. citizenship hotline has received over a half a million calls since the mid-1980's, and has provided basic information on U.S. citizenship to people from more than 85 countries of origin. Through our U.S. citizenship workshops and hotline, we have gained an understanding of the problems encountered by immigrants when they make the decision to become U.S. citizens.
Additionally, the NALEO Educational Fund's groundbreaking naturalization research has complemented its civic action program. In 1988, we conducted the National Latino Immigrant Survey (NLIS), the first nationally representative survey of Latino immigrants who were eligible to become U.S. citizens. The NLIS comprehensively examined the obstacles which immigrants surmount as they initiate and complete the naturalization process.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In recent years, as this Subcommittee knows, the number of immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship has risen dramatically. Between 1993 and 1996, the number of naturalization applications filed annually more than doubled, growing from 522,298 to 1.2 million. However, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) processing of these applications has not kept pace. According to INS data, in June 1996, there were nearly 1.4 million Form N400 applications pending disposition. At the end of fiscal year 1997, this number increased to 1,656,560, and two months later, by the end of November 1997, the backlog reached 1,746,532. Currently, the average wait for eligible naturalization applicants to become U.S. citizens approaches two years, and many have been waiting for far longer periods of time. These delays have a real impact on the lives of thousands of immigrants who are eager to show their commitment to this nation by becoming U.S. citizens. In recent years, we have assisted at least five immigrants who have passed away while waiting for the adjudication of their naturalization applicationsif this has been our experience, we wonder how many others stranded in the 1.7 million backlog will never be able to realize their dream of U.S. citizenship.
Mr. Chairman, we believe that the backlog is a serious problem that can only be effectively addressed by immediate and concerted action on the part of both the INS and Congress. We also believe that community-based organizations (CBO's) have played and can continue to play an important role in backlog reduction by informing immigrants about the requirements for U.S. citizenship and educating them about the naturalization process. This testimony will first focus on actions that can be taken by the INS to address the backlog. We would then like to discuss how Congress can assist the INS by ensuring that the Service can expeditiously obtain and use its funding resources to deliver naturalization services. In this connection, we would like to comment on pending legislation, H.R. 2837, that will impair rather than enhance the ability of the INS to meet the challenge it faces. Finally, we would like to specifically address how the INS and CBO's can work in partnership to reduce the backlog.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
INS AND CONGRESSIONAL ACTIONS THAT WILL REDUCE THE BACKLOG
Mr. Chairman, we believe that there are several actions that the INS and Congress can take that will reduce the naturalization application backlog. Some of these efforts have already begun. For example, one goal of the redesign of the naturalization system proposed by the INS in early February of this year is to streamline application processing, and we believe that if properly implemented, the redesign will ultimately eliminate many of the delays in the system. However, we also believe that current backlogs will not be alleviated without some serious and immediate action by the Service. Consequently, we strongly urge the INS to adopt a plan that provides for a substantial reduction in the backlog and a decrease in applicant waiting times. These reductions should occur nationwide. Ideally, an applicant who applies for U.S. citizenship in any INS district in the nation should wait no longer than six months after application before becoming a U.S. citizen.
In this connection, we believe a fundamental component of the INS' efforts should be to ensure that it can either obtain or adequately utilize the funding resources required to implement the redesign and its backlog reduction plan We recognize that the INS must comply with statutory and regulatory mandates to support the costs of adjudicating certain immigration applications through the collection of fees, which are currently held in the Examinations Fee Account. However, we do not believe naturalization applicants should bear the brunt of the costs involved in the redesign and the backlog reduction plan. For example, as part of its implementation of the component of the redesign which requires applicants to obtain the fingerprints that must accompany the Form N400 application from INS-operated Application Support Centers, the Service recently imposed a $25 fee on applicants to cover the costs of providing those fingerprints. This charge is in addition to the current $95 filing fee for the Form N400 application, and essentially increases the total cost for the application to $120.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Moreover, we are extremely concerned about the proposal issued by the INS last January seeking a 137% increase (from $95 to $225) in the Form N400 filing fee. We strongly oppose asking applicants to pay a higher fee at a time when the quality of service they are currently receiving with respect to processing delays is extremely poor. Instead, we propose that the INS should seek several administrative or legislative changes necessary to more effectively obtain or utilize funding for backlog reduction. Some of these changes will require Congressional action and we believe that Congress should act swiftly to facilitate the INS requests.
Under Pub. L. No. 103317, Section 605, Congress instituted new obligations on Federal agencies before they could spend funds not only to create or eliminate programs but also when they wish to augment existing programs or activities by more than $500,000 or ten percent of the total previously approved budget for the programs or activities. In recent years, as a result of its evolving relationship with Congress with regard to re-programming issues, the INS has interpreted this requirement to require both notification and explicit Congressional approval before implementing spending changes that exceed the foregoing threshold. The re-programming process that has resulted is responsible for delays and inefficiencies that have substantially contributed to the backlog. For example, in late July 1997, the INS sent an urgent re-programming request to Congress so that the INS could spend funds (provided by application fees) to address the backlog, and the Service indicated that an expeditious approval of the request was one of the three pre-requisites necessary for it to reduce the backlog down to six months by the end of fiscal year 99. However, it was not until four months later that the request was approved.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Similarly, in November 1997, INS sent an urgent request to Congressional appropriators asking to spend existing monies in its Examination Fee Account and its Salaries and Expenses Account to assist it in centralizing its records, another important component of backlog reduction. In spite of the urgency of the request, the appropriators failed to include this request into fiscal year 1998 Appropriations legislation which was under consideration at the time, and to this day, Congress has not acted on this request.
INS re-programming requests in the naturalization context are not about changes in spending general taxpayers' money, they are about changes that are needed to serve the processing needs of individuals who have paid fees for a service. The delays experienced by the INS while waiting for Congressional action on its requests are unacceptable, and Congress' failure to approve the naturalization funding changes needed by the INS have further hampered its ability to address the backlog.
Consequently, we believe both the INS and Congress have significant roles to play in re-shaping the re-programming process to allow for better INS management of its resources. The INS should change its policy of waiting for approval before making changes in its spending of naturalization application fees. Since the INS is not required to wait for approval of funding changes, it legally can notify Congress of the changes in spending and then proceed. Alternatively, if the INS believes that as a result of its relationship with Congress, it must obtain affirmative Congressional approval for such changes, Congress should send a clear message to the INS that such approval will not delay the INS' efforts to utilize program resources effectively. Congress can send this message by either explicitly notifying the INS that such approval is not a general requirement for re-programmings, or by acting on specific INS requests as expeditiously as is needed for proper program management.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
If Congress wishes to have explicit approval authority over INS re-programming requests, it should establish a threshold for spending changes that require such approval that far exceeds the current threshold for notification (any increase in existing activities of more than $500,000 or ten percent [10%] of the total previously-approved budget for such activities). The current threshold is too low to allow the INS to make spending changes to effectively respond to customer needs; it must have greater flexibility than its interpretation of current Congressional requirements allows.
For most of our country's history, the INS did not charge for immigration adjudication and naturalization services. In 1968, the INS began charging fees for such services but the fees were deposited in the General Treasury Fund until 1989. During that period, Congress appropriated funds to the INS for immigration adjudication and naturalization services. It has only been for the last nine years that the fees deposited in the Examinations Fee Account have been essentially the ''sole source of funding'' for immigration adjudication and naturalization services. There is no reason why Congress is prevented from appropriating funds for naturalization services, and there are many reasons why the INS should seek such funding from Congress. In fact, Congress did appropriate $7.1 million in fiscal year 1995 for naturalization.
As noted above, the proposed redesign represents a complete overhaul of the INS' naturalization program that is long over due. A look at the program's fiscal year 1998 budget reveals requests for tens of millions of dollars to improve direct mail services, records management, automation for application processing, and computerization for naturalization support, among other areas. As a result of legislation passed last year, the INS is now required to do all fingerprinting of naturalization applicants requiring major amounts of resources to set up new offices, train new people, and buy new high technology equipment. Such dramatic changes call for unusual amounts of resources for at least the next two to four years. In order to obtain these resources, the INS should seek appropriated funds to pay for the large infrastructure changes and investments that are needed for a short period to update the program into the twenty-first century, and Congress should approve this request.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
In 1994, Congress passed legislation amending Section 245 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) which allowed certain immigrants who were eligible for permanent residence because they had a close family member or employer who would sponsor them to be interviewed or adjust their status here in the United States instead of abroad so long as they met certain conditions. When the law became effective October 1, 1994, applicants who wished to take advantage of the benefits of Section 245(i) had to pay a fee or ''penalty'' of $650 which went to the Examinations Fee Account. In 1996, Congress amended Section 245(i) by raising the fee to $1,000 and redirecting 80% of the fee from the Examinations Fee Account to detention related spending. In 1997, Congress terminated the 245(i) program but allowed those applicants who had an approved visa petition, had filed a relative petition, or filed an employment preference petition by January 14, 1998, to still remain eligible for adjustment of status under Section 245(i).
The foregoing re-direction of Section 245(i) monies may have had an impact on the INS in its July re-programming request, when it failed to ask for the conversion to full-term of all 914 of temporary adjudicator and clerk positions it had created to help address the backlog. More than half514 of these positionswere allowed to lapse, which is puzzling considering the significant role such personnel play in processing applications. We believe that the INS may have been reluctant to seek more positions because it did not believe the Examinations Fee Account could support them as a result of the diversion of 245(i) funds. This loss to the account is estimated to be $131 million for fiscal year 98 and $113 million for fiscal year 99.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Consequently, we urge the INS to seek action from Congress that would end the practice of taking 245(i) fee money out of the Examinations Fee Account and redirecting it to other INS activities, and we urge Congress to expeditiously approve this request. The monies made available could be used for the ''investments'' the INS is intending to make in the naturalization process to reduce the backlog and applicant waiting times.
PENDING LEGISLATION IMPOSING ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS ON THE NATURALIZATION PROCESS
We also believe that Congress can assist in eliminating the backlog by refraining from making unnecessary changes in naturalization policy and procedure that will exacerbate current delays. We are particularly concerned about H.R. 2837, which was introduced this session. While we understand that the legislation is intended to enhance the integrity of the naturalization program, we believe that it will merely place new bureaucratic burdens on the INS and applicants without providing any additional meaningful safeguards for the naturalization system. The provisions of H.R. 2837 intended to ''strengthen'' naturalization requirements and procedures merely either codify existing practices or impose unnecessary requirements. For example, in one of its most troubling provisions, Section 6(a) of the bill mandates that examiners ''verify'' each of the nearly 60 questions on the Form N100 application during the course of the naturalization interview, even those not material to the applicant's eligibility; examiners must also ''verify'' any ''statement or representation . . . in documents submitted.'' This requirement would considerably lengthen interview time, resulting in less interviews per day, thereby increasing the backlog.
Additionally, under Section 3, H.R. 2837 would increase the period of time mandated by naturalization requirements for which applicants must establish ''good moral character'' from five years to 10 years, which means that applicants would be required to present 10 years of documentation related to such issues as child support payments, tax payments, and arrests for even minor offenses. Because naturalization applicants are first eligible for U.S. citizenship after five years of permanent residency, a substantial portion of these documents might have to be retrieved from the applicant's home country, which might be difficult or time-consuming process. By requiring INS examiners to review substantially greater amounts of documentation, and by impairing the ability of applicants to expeditiously gather material needed for processing of their applications, the 10-year good moral character requirement would also exacerbate the backlog.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Similarly, under Section 2, H.R. 2837 would require each applicant to demonstrate that he or she is not ''removable'' or, essentially, deportable, under current immigration laws. While most grounds for removability are also grounds for denying naturalization, this provision would most likely require the INS to explore some very technical and minor issues relating to the applicant's period of permanent residency, such as 1) whether any failure to notify the INS of any change of address was ''willful''; or 2) whether any criminal conviction has ever resulted from old arrests, even for nonfelony crimes alleged to have occurred 10, 15, 25 or even 50 years ago. As is the case with the legislation's 10-year good moral character requirement, these additional burdens will significantly increase the time it takes to review each application and consequently, will increase the backlog.
Moreover, H.R. 2837 would eliminate the existing exemption for immigrants over the age of 75 from the requirement of submitting fingerprints with their naturalization applications; as a result, these elderly applicants would now be required to be fingerprinted. Many elderly applicants have arthritis and other conditions that make it time-consuming, if not impossible to fingerprint them. We believe that this elimination of the exemption is unnecessary, because nearly all of these elderly applicants were 1) already fingerprinted when they became lawful permanent residents; and 2) are already required to undergo FBI name checks when applying for naturalization. Consequently, the fingerprinting provision of H.R. 2837 would also exacerbate the backlog by imposing additional difficulties on the INS when processing applicants without effecting any meaningful enhancement to the integrity of the naturalization system.
The foregoing list of provisions in H.R. 2837 that deeply concern us is not exhaustive, and the additional burdens imposed by the bill are particularly troublesome in light of the fact that the legislation does nothing to reduce the backlog. We believe that the goal of enhancing the integrity of the naturalization process is not inconsistent with reducing the backlog, and creating a fair and accessible system. H.R. 2837 does not appear to further any of these goals, and will affirmatively impair the Service's ability to achieve them.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
ROLE OF COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZATIONS IN ASSISTING IN BACKLOG REDUCTION
Finally, Mr. Chairman, we believe that CBO's have made and will continue to make significant contributions that will assist in reducing the backlogs. Many CBO's conduct extensive programs which inform immigrants about-naturalization requirements and procedures, provide them with education that enables them to meet the English language and U.S. civics proficiency requirements, and assists them with completing and submitting their application materials. As a result of these efforts, fewer ineligible immigrants submit naturalization applications; the applications submitted by eligible applicants are more likely to be complete and correct; and applicants are better-prepared for their interview/examination. Consequently, the INS spends less resources on processing these applications, which can assist in backlog reduction.
We hope that as the INS implements the re-design, it will not eliminate the role of CBO's. Although many of the elements of the re-design (such as a comprehensive information/eligibility packet for applicants, and a telephonic pre-application process) will provide some of the assistance that is currently provided by CBO's, there will still be many immigrants who will turn to agencies that have a long-standing relationship with their community and who are perceived of as familiar and accessible. Through such entities as the Naturalization Re-engineering Management Advisory Team that worked closely with the INS and Coopers and Lybrand, CBO's have worked in partnership with the INS as it developed the redesign. The INS should continue to utilize that partnership as it works to reduce the backlog.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, we believe that greater naturalization is in the best interests of our nation. Legal immigrants who embrace U.S. citizenship are motivated by a desire to demonstrate their commitment to this country, and when they gain the right to vote, and participate in the political process, our democracy becomes stronger and more representative. Greater naturalization also makes a wider group of skilled and talented workers available in our workforce for positions that are barred to non-citizens. For thousands of law-abiding, tax-paying newcomers, U.S. citizenship is the often overlooked obstacle to social, political and economic advancement.
Immigrants who wish to fully participate in our polity should not be stranded indefinitely in a bureaucratic limbo, waiting for periods of years before they realize their dream of U.S. citizenship. Instead, our naturalization bureaucracy should safeguard the integrity of U.S. citizenship, while providing an equitable, accessible and expeditious system for all eligible applicants nationwide. Assisting newcomers with U.S. citizenship is deeply embedded in American political tradition; this country promoted U.S. citizenship in the 19th century and early decades of this century. We are pleased that this Subcommittee is bringing attention to the naturalization caseload and backlog, for it is a renewal of our historic commitment to maintaining the vitality of our democracy.
Thank you for this opportunity to submit testimony.
STATEMENT OF JAMES S. ANGUS, ACTING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF NATURALIZATION OPERATIONS, IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ANGUS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee.
With me today is Edward Murphy, the Deputy Director of the Office of Naturalization Operations.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to provide you with information on INS's efforts and plans to reduce our backlog of pending naturalization applications. Before I begin, however, I would like to highlight the significant progress the INS has made in the naturalization program since April, 1997, and some of our plans for continuing improvement.
INS has achieved documented success in ensuring the integrity of the naturalization process. Specifically, in December, 1997, the KPMG audit of INS naturalization procedures found that INS had implemented effectively the new naturalization quality procedures designed to ensure the integrity of naturalization processing. Perhaps most important of these is the control that was put in place June 30, 1997, providing that no applicant is interviewed for citizenship by the INS without a definitive FBI response to fingerprints.
INS is also in the process of implementing a new fingerprinting program. This program will utilize a network of application support centers, mobile fingerprinting units and designated law enforcement agencies to provide nationwide coverage. This process will allow us to not only control print quality and customer information but also enable us to verify the identity of applicants at critical points in our process.
In addition to these integrity-strengthening measures, INS has instituted several measures to standardize processing, including new automated systems and direct mail for all naturalization applications. Direct mail allows for up-front processing of naturalization applications to be completed at our four highly-automated INS service centers, focusing field office resources on conducting interviews and adjudicating applications.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
INS is also dramatically increasing naturalization information available on the public INS Internet website, including naturalization forms, citizenship study materials, a ''self test'' and eligibility information. These changes have laid the groundwork for INS to deliver better service to our customers and to implement the long-term changes recommended by Coopers & Lybrand. These changes are well under way and provide the foundation for our plans to reduce the level of pending naturalization applications.
The naturalization processing backlog is a result of two primary factors: unprecedented levels of new application filings and increased quality assurance measures introduced into a manual, paper-intensive processing environment. In the last few years, INS has received historically high levels of new naturalization applications without receiving commensurate increases in the level of staff.
To address weaknesses identified in naturalization procedures, INS implemented new naturalization quality procedures in June, 1997. Unfortunately, because the naturalization quality procedures are currently a manual, non-automated process, these procedures, while strengthening integrity, have lessened productivity. Consequently, waiting times for applicants are increasing.
Now that the INS has fully implemented the naturalization quality procedures, received a good report card on that implementation and is ensuring that our naturalization decisions have integrity and produce a high-quality adjudication, INS must turn its focus on increasing productivity while maintaining this high-quality adjudication.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Before addressing specific plans for backlog reduction, it is important to understand the nature of funding for naturalization processing. Naturalization application processing is a fee-funded service, paid for by applicants into the Examinations Fee Account. While these fees are intended to cover all the operating costs and enhancement expenses, the current fees do not recover all of INS's cost to process naturalization or other applications.
In the Appropriations Act of 1998, we received all the funds available in the Examination Fee Account for this fiscal year. This additional funding has made progress possible for the INS in several areas but leaves few resources remaining for additional staff to process the adjudication of current cases.
Because of the need to implement sound business practices, our efforts have focused primarily on revamping our processes to remove as much of the manual, paper-driven aspects of our processing as possible. While our current efforts will significantly improve processing for new applications filed after implementation, they result, regrettably, in only limited benefits for applications already pending in the existing caseload.
The INS has developed a three-pronged approach for each office processing naturalization applications to reduce the number of pending applications. INS is evaluating production in each office to develop unique plans to reduce the number of pending applications.
The three-pronged approach consists of, one, determining where in the system applications are backlogged, what we have come to call choke points; two, determining the cause of the choke points; and, three, creating solutions for each office. These solutions generally fall into two categories: changing practices and adding resources.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
The INS processes naturalization applications in 33 districts. For each of these 33 districts we have completed step one, determining where in the system applications are backlogged. In 15 offices we have completed and in four offices we will shortly complete step two, determining the causes of the choke points. We anticipate completing step three for these 19 offices shortly and are in the process of developing unique office-by-office solutions.
General examples of these solutions include scheduling of applicants with expired prints for reprinting at one of our application support centers; including a letter with the scheduling notice instructing applicants as to what documentation they must bring to the interview, so that fewer cases must be continued. The lower our continuation rate, the more cases we adjudicate and move on to ceremony. And, three, we have changed internal processes to ensure that only applications for which necessary integrity steps have been completed are scheduled. That means we are doing a better job in our service centers of getting our files to the districts at the time of interview.
These 19 offices for which we are developing such unique backlog reduction plans comprise approximately 90 percent of our incoming workload and applications pending last fiscal year. Until we can complete a more thorough analysis, the remaining offices, representing less than 10 percent of our workload, are receiving information on best practices derived from our experiences in the offices we have visited.
INS's major initiatives are all aimed at ensuring integrity, standardizing processing for all offices, providing ready communication with our customers and increasing the productivity of our existing workforce. The goal of these initiatives is to provide field offices with the optimal tools to make quality decisions in a timely manner.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Successful implementation of these initiatives is critical to creating a solid platform from which to process increased numbers of applications. The status of these initiatives is as follows:
The implementation of INS's in-house fingerprinting program, mandated in December of last year, is on track and will soon be fully operational for all immigration benefit applications requiring an FBI background check.
The direct mail program, under which all new naturalization applications are sent to one of our four service centers for up-front clerical processing rather than to local offices, will be fully implemented by mid-April.
The records centralization program was funded in the 1998 Appropriations Act. We forwarded the notification required to lease and build out the central facility to the Appropriations Committee on November 6, 1997, and are awaiting their approval before we begin.
The implementation of our new automated case tracking system, which has become popularly known as CLAIMS 4.0, will automate many of the manual, labor-intensive naturalization quality procedures and provide accurate and timely management reporting statistics to allow INS to address quickly changes in workload.
While the CLAIMS 4.0 project is not yet performing optimally in the field in the pilot at the Nebraska Service Center and the Chicago District Office, software changes to improve performance continue. We have made rapid improvement in that system over the last month, but we are not there yet.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
A streamlined and automated version of our current manual naturalization quality procedures will be fully implemented when record centralization begins and the CLAIMS 4.0 system deployment is complete.
INS's July, 1997, reprogramming request projected that we would reduce the backlog of applications to between 6 and 10 months nationwide by the end of fiscal year 1999. These projections were based on expected completion dates for our major initiatives and the expected date of approval of our funding request.
Crucial initiatives, however, such as records centralization and CLAIMS 4.0, which we hoped to have had completed by the end of this fiscal year, have not yet begun or have been delayed. Because of this and because receipt of funds requested in the July, 1997, reprogramming was delayed until fiscal year 1998, INS now expects to have reduced the level of applications pending to about 10 to 12 months, on average nationwide, by the end of fiscal year 1999.
Thank you for your interest in our efforts to reduce the pending naturalization caseload. We share your commitment to improving customer service and shortening waiting times for naturalization applicants.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Angus.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Angus follows:]
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPREPARED STATEMENT OF JAMES S. ANGUS, ACTING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF NATURALIZATION OPERATIONS, IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE
Mr. Chairman Members of the Subcommittee:
I am pleased to have this opportunity to provide you with information on the pending and anticipated naturalization caseload, how the backlog has risen, and INS' efforts and plans to reduce the backlog. Before I address the backlog in naturalization processing, I would like to highlight the significant progress the INS has made in the naturalization program since April 1997, and some of our plans for continuing improvements.
INS has achieved tremendous success in ensuring the integrity of the naturalization process. Specifically, in December 1997, the KPMG audit of INS naturalization procedures found that INS had effectively implemented the new naturalization quality procedures designed to ensure the integrity of naturalization processing. INS is also in the process of implementing a new fingerprinting program. This program will utilize a network of ''Application Support Centers'' (ASCs) where contract staff, overseen by INS employees, will verify each applicant's identity and fingerprint the applicant using either ink or live-scan fingerprint machines. The ASC staff will forward fingerprint cards to INS service centers, and in turn to the FBI for processing. INS will use a combination of 75 free-standing ASCs, 51 ASCs collocated within existing INS office space, 44 mobile fingerprinting units, and 38 designated law enforcement agencies to provide nationwide coverage.
In addition to these integrity-strengthening measures, INS has instituted several measures to standardize processing, including new automated systems and Direct Mail for all naturalization applications. Direct Mail allows for up-front processing of naturalization applications to be completed at the 4 highly-automated INS service centers, focusing field office resources on conducting interviews and adjudicating applications. INS is also dramatically increasing naturalization information available on the public INS Internet website - including naturalization forms, citizenship study materials and a ''self-test'', and eligibility information. INS hopes to institute an on-line system to allow status inquiries, as well.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
These changes have laid the groundwork for INS to deliver better service to its customers and to implement the long-term changes recommended by Coopers and Lybrand. These changes are well underway and underlie our plans to reduce the level of pending naturalization applications.
HOW DID THE BACKLOG ARISE?
The naturalization processing backlog is a result of two primary factors: unprecedented levels of new application filings and increased quality assurance measures introduced into a manual, paper intensive processing environment. In the last few years, INS has received historically high levels of new naturalization applications. For example, in fiscal year 1993, the INS received only 521,886 applications. In fiscal year 1997, INS received nearly 1.6 million naturalization applications, more than triple that received in FY 1993. The number of staff in fiscal year 1997, however, were only half again as much as compared to fiscal year 1993.
In fiscal year 1996, in order to address rising levels of pending applications and improve waiting times, the INS began the Citizenship USA program. With increased staff and additional funding, the INS completed 1,334,000 applications. To address weaknesses identified in naturalization procedures, INS implemented new naturalization quality procedures in June 1997. The most important changes in quality procedures include requiring definitive response from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) background check and the receipt of an applicant's permanent A-file prior to the time of interview and adjudication of the application.
These procedures focused INS staff resources on integrity and quality by requiring manual notation of all quality assurance steps, and supervisory review to ensure that all steps had been completed before the applicant could be naturalized. The results of our naturalization quality procedures were a strengthening in our naturalization process, as validated by KPMG Peat Marwick in its December 1997 report.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Unfortunately, because the naturalization quality procedures are currently manual, non-automated processes, these procedures, while strengthening integrity, have lessened productivity, during a time when our receipt of new naturalization applications have continued at an all-time high level. Consequently, waiting times for applicants have increased.
Now that the INS has fully implemented the naturalization quality procedures and is ensuring that our naturalization decisions have integrity, INS must turn its focus on increasing productivity while maintaining this high quality adjudication. Before addressing specific plans for backlog reduction, it is important to understand the nature of funding for naturalization processing.
HOW IS NATURALIZATION CASE PROCESSING FUNDED?
Naturalization application processing is a fee-funded service, paid for by applicants. Money paid by naturalization applicants is deposited, along with the fees collected from other INS immigrant benefit applicants, into the Examinations Fee Account. While these fees are intended to cover all operating costs and enhancement expenses; the current fee of $95 does not recover all the costs to process naturalization applications. INS has published a proposed regulation to increase the costs of immigrant benefit applications, including naturalization, to meet the costs actually incurred. The fee for naturalization would increase to $225.
In our reprogramming request, forwarded to Congress in July 1997, and approved in the Appropriations Act of 1998 on November 26, 1997, we requested the reprogramming of $150 million in funds and positions out of the Examinations Fee Account to improve and ensure integrity, and overhaul our processes. In terms of staffing, this funding provided for 121 permanent and 400 term positions. (See Attachment 1). In this reprogramming, INS received all the funds available in the Examinations Fee Account for this fiscal year. INS also reallocated over $30,000,000 in base funding from the Examinations Fee Account to meet the cost of fundamentally restructuring the naturalization program.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
This additional funding, as well as $16.8 million in appropriated funds for fingerprint machines, has made tremendous progress possible for the INS in several areas. These include: dedicating staff and resources for naturalization case processing under new quality procedures, planning and implementation of a complete, in-house fingerprinting program, and transition filing of all naturalization applications from our field offices to our four service centers. These programs are integral to ensuring both integrity and improved customer service, in the years ahead. However, the limitations of funding within the Examinations Fee Account do limit staff resources available for processing naturalization and other benefit applications.
HOW DOES INS INTEND TO REDUCE THE BACKLOG?
Because of Congressional expectations that INS more effectively use its existing workforce, and the need to implement sound business practices, our efforts have focused primarily on revamping our processes to remove as much of the manual, paper driven aspects of our processing as possible. While our current efforts will significantly improve processing for new applications filed after implementation, they result in only limited benefits for applications already pending in the existing caseload.
The INS has developed a three pronged approach for each office processing naturalization applications to reduce the number of pending applications. A team of INS headquarters staff, supplemented by experienced personnel from the field, are evaluating each office to develop unique plans to reduce the number of pending applications. The three pronged approach consists of: (1) determining where in the system applications are backlogged (otherwise known as ''choke points''); (2) determining the cause of the ''choke points''; and (3) creating solutions for each office. These solutions generally fall into two categories: changing practices and adding resources.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
INS processes naturalization applications in 33 districts, comprised of 80 offices. For each of these 33 districts, we have completed step (1), determining where in the system applications are backlogged. For 15 offices(see footnote 1) we have completed, and 4 offices(see footnote 2) will shortly complete, step (2), determining the causes of the choke points. We anticipate completing step (3) for these 19 offices shortly, and are in the process of developing unique office-by-office solutions. General examples of these solutions include: scheduling of applicants with expired prints for reprinting at one of our ASCs, including a letter with the scheduling notice instructing applicants as to what documentation they must bring to the interview so that fewer cases must be continued, and changed internal processes to ensure that only applications for which necessary integrity steps have been completed are scheduled.
Los Angeles, one of the first districts visited by a backlog reduction team, provides a good example of INS' current approach to reducing the number of pending naturalization caseloads. In Los Angeles, the team identified a backlog of approximately 200,000 continued cases which were on hold because the FBI clearance had expired. The team also determined that cases were pending for a long period of time because an insufficient number of interviews were being scheduled. The process and resource solutions developed to address these choke points include: increasing from 15 to 45 the number of adjudicators assigned to continued cases and increasing from 36 to 76 the number of clerks assigned to continued cases; acquiring additional space to centralize continued case processing; adding 33 adjudicators to staff beginning July 1998; increasing from 48 to 89 the number of adjudicators conducting naturalization interviews; and increasing from 55 to 78 the number of clerks supporting naturalization interviews; and increasing the number of interviews scheduled per month from 5,247 in December 1997 to 41,200 in June 1998 (over 2,000 interviews per day).
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
These 19 offices for which we are developing such unique backlog reduction plans comprised approximately 90 percent of our incoming workload and applications pending last fiscal year. Until we can complete a more thorough analysis, the remaining offices, representing less than 10% of our workload, are receiving information on best practices derived from our experiences in the offices we have visited.
Attached is information for each of our 33 districts on the level of pending cases and the average waiting times experienced by applicants. (See Attachment 2).
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF INS' MAJOR NATURALIZATION INITIATIVES?
Many of the procedural changes we need to lessen these backlogs are major initiatives for the Service. These major initiatives include: Fingerprinting, Direct Mail, Records Centralization, Automation, and new Naturalization Quality Procedures. These initiatives are all aimed at ensuring integrity, standardizing processing for all offices, providing ready communication with our customers, and increasing the productivity of our existing workforce. The goal of these initiatives is to provide field offices with the optimal tools to make quality decisions in a timely manner.
Successful implementation of these initiatives are critical to creating a solid platform from which to process increased numbers of applications. The status of these initiatives are as follows:
1. The implementation of INS' in-house Fingerprinting Program is on-track and will soon be fully operational. On March 17th, INS published an interim rule to implement the final phase of this program. By the end of March 1998, 75 application support centers (ASCs), 51 ASCs collocated with existing INS offices, 44 mobile routes, and 38 designated law enforcement agencies operating under sole source agreements with INS will take all fingerprints for all immigration benefit applications requiring a FBI background check. We have purchased 100 live-scan fingerprint machines so far. We intend to purchase approximately 300 additional machines with money provided in the 1998 Appropriations Act once a cost benefit analysis of vendors is complete.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
2. The Direct Mail program, under which all new naturalization applications are sent to one of our 4 highly automated service centers for up-front clerical processing rather than to the local offices, will be fully implemented by midApril. At the beginning of fiscal year 1998, only 4 offices (Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, and Chicago) were utilizing Direct Mail. As of April 15, 1998, all 80 offices will have been transitioned to Direct Mail for all new naturalization applications filed.
3. The Records Centralization program was funded in the 1998 Appropriations Act. This program will provide for the housing, maintenance, and tracking of A-files at a centralized facility. INS is fully prepared and funded to implement this project. We forwarded the notification required to lease and build out the central facility to the Appropriations Committee on November 6, 1997, and are awaiting their approval before we begin.
4. The implementation of our new automated case tracking system (CLAIMS 4.0) will automate many of the manual, labor intensive, naturalization quality procedures and provide accurate and timely management reporting statistics to allow INS to quickly address changes in workload. Software development is mostly complete and CLAIMS 4.0 is in pilot at the Nebraska Service Center and the Chicago District Office. While the CLAIMS 4.0 is not yet performing optimally in the pilot, software changes continue to improve performance and deployment continues.
5. Development of automation of current manual procedures associated with our naturalization quality procedures, streamlined to take advantage of process changes, records centralization, and automation improvements gained with CLAIMS 4.0, will begin shortly. They will be fully implemented, when records centralization begins and the CLAIMS 4.0 system deployment is completed.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
INS has announced its intention to increase the application fees for naturalization and other benefit applications, after service is improved. Once the new fees are implemented, additional revenue to cover naturalization operating base costs for new applications in fiscal year 1999 and 2000 would be available.
WHAT ARE INS' EXPECTED TIMEFRAMES FOR BACKLOG REDUCTION?
INS' July 1997 reprogramming request projected that we would reduce the backlog of applications to between 6 and 10 months, nationwide, by the end of fiscal year 1999. These projections were based on expected completion dates for several major initiatives and the expected date of approval of our funding request. Crucial initiatives however, such as Records Centralization and CLAIMS 4.0, which we hoped to have completed by the end of this fiscal year, have not yet begun or are delayed. Because of this and because receipt of the funds requested in the July 1997 reprogramming was delayed until fiscal year 1998, INS now expects to have reduced the level of applications pending to about 10 to 12 months, on average nationwide, by the end of FY 1999. To accomplish this, the INS will need to complete approximately 2 million applications during fiscal year 1999.
WHAT DOES INS NEED TO REACH THE 6 MONTH GOAL?
Congress has requested that the INS identify the additional resources that would enable the INS to reach our 6 month goal more quickly. Backlog reduction, however, is not an overnight process. Personnel resources, other than overtime funding, require recruiting, hiring, security clearances, and training before they have an effect on pending caseload. First of all, let me make it clear that we are not asking for funding at this time. Having said that, however, assuming, hypothetically, that we were to receive additional resources by July 1998, we outline three projected pending levels in the chart below: (1) if we receive no additional staff or funding and implement none of our planned process improvements; (2) if we implement planned process improvements, but receive no additional staff or funding; and (3) if we implement process improvements and receive additional staff and funding. These projections are based on acquiring additional resources by July 1, 1998 and retaining them through fiscal year 2000.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
We have developed the chart below to demonstrate in months corresponding increases in application completions, and decreases in pending applications for each increase in the number of adjudicators. Support staff and resources are determined based on the number of adjudicators allocated.
To bring waiting times to 6 months by the end of fiscal year 1999, INS would require $97,661,000 and 290 positions in funding for use through fiscal year 2000. These amounts break down into $44,061,000 for 290 adjudicators, $16,600,000 for temporary applications clerks, $6,150,000 in contract funding, $19,600,000 to cover both INS costs and Investigation FBI charges to reprint approximately 500,000 applicants with expired FBI background checks, $3,750,000 for costs associated with records support, and $7,500,000 for overtime. These estimates rely heavily on assumptions enumerated above, including that these additional resources would become available by July 1, 1998.
Thank you for your interest in our efforts to reduce the pending naturalization caseload. We share your commitment to improving customer service and shortening waiting times for naturalization applicants.
Mr. SMITH. Let me make an observation first before I get to my questions. It strikes me that it probably was not a coincidence that the INS announced in Los Angeles yesterday that they were dedicating a large number of additional resources to reducing the backlog in that city, and that announcement was made 1 day before today's hearing.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
My initial question to you is this: If we have 20 more hearings, can you guarantee us the same effort in 20 more major cities across the country?
Mr. ANGUS. There is no need to have 20 more hearings. The progress we have made in backlog reduction transcends Los Angeles. Backlog reduction is an issue that we began addressing last fall in three of our offices, Charlotte, Baltimore and Arlington. From that, we learned that a case-by-case and office-by-office review was going to be necessary.
Mr. SMITH. You mentioned in your testimony that by the end of fiscal year 1999 you hope to have reduced the average wait across the country to 10 to 12 months. I am looking at attachment 2 of your testimony now, where the average wait time as of January 1998 was 14 months. So you are really just talking about reducing it 2 months, or perhaps a little bit more, at the end of fiscal year 1999 from where it is today, is that right?
Mr. ANGUS. No, sir, Mr. Chairman, that is not correct.
The numbers you quoted are correct. The wait time that we measured in January 1998 reflects, of the people we naturalized in January 1998, how long from when they filed their application to the time of naturalization. That does not reflect what we know is a backlog in our system of difficult cases. There are still many cases, because of access to files, because of fingerprints, that we have to get to before we can begin processing many of our applications. But it is a good barometer of who was sworn in in January and how long was the wait.
What we are projecting, if I may, because this is somewhat confusingwhat we are projecting by a processing time is, at the end of fiscal year 1999, if we achieve the productivity gains we are hoping for, if we get our completion rates to where we project them to be and with our use of the $14 million in backlog funds this year and next, what we have at that period of time will take us 10 months to process.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. SMITH. Okay. So in that case, it seems to me, though, with your wait of 14 months that you have as of January 1998, and by the end of fiscal year 1999 the projected 10 to 12 months, it still seems to me that that is a relatively fair comparison; and, if it is not, if anything, you would need to be adding a little bit more time to the 10 to 12 months. Is that not the case?
Mr. ANGUS. Our processing time in January 1998our processing time is estimated to be at about 33 months, which means of the caseload that we had pending in January
Mr. SMITH. So is the correct comparison 33 compared to 10 to 12, not 14 compared to 10 to 12?
Mr. ANGUS. That is correct.
Mr. SMITH. All right. Fair enough.
Also, I notice that you target Los Angeles as the first city where you are going to bring additional resources to bear, and you hope to reduce the backlog.
I notice also on attachment 2 that there are any number of large cities that have a longer backlog than Los Angeles, such as Atlanta, Miami, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and others. Why did you pick Los Angeles when the problem is greater in other cities?
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. ANGUS. As I said, we did a pilot in the fall of three offices. Los Angeles was one of our first to visit. That is where we have our largest backlog of cases.
Mr. SMITH. It is the largest number, but it is not the longest wait. I thought we were in the business of trying to reduce the longest waits?
Mr. ANGUS. Los Angeles, Mr. Chairman, is not the only jurisdiction that has received our attention. In Los Angeles we have devoted approximately 4 million in
Mr. SMITH. That is the first jurisdiction where you announced a specific plan to reduce the backlog. Why didn't you pick cities where the problem is greater?
Mr. ANGUS. We have a backlog plan for many of our cities. It is not just Los Angeles.
Mr. SMITH. That is where you announced yesterday that the additional resources were going to be brought to bear. You have not announced the same additional resources in other cities where the backlog is longer. Is it politics? Why did you do it?
Mr. ANGUS. The backlog reduction plan in Los Angeles has been an evolving plan over the last several months.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. Let me go on. I don't think I am going to get an answer to that question.
You also mention in your written testimony that something like a half a million individuals had their fingerprint test expire. So, therefore, the FBI clearance expired and the cost to rectify that is going to be something like $20 million, is that fair to say?
Mr. ANGUS. That is correct.
Mr. SMITH. How in the world did that happen? I am not aware of the INS calling thatmaybe for good reasoncalling it to the public's attention or our attention. Is that a management problem? Why was that allowed to happen? Why was that allowed to occur? Is it a structural problem, a management problem?
Mr. ANGUS. It is a natural occurrence of the backlog. The fingerprints do not expire. What we have is an operational rule. It goes to the integrity of our process.
Mr. SMITH. You are going to have to conduct those fingerprints over again at the cost of $20 million to half a million people. What is the excuse for that occurring? Why was that not anticipated, and why wasn't something done about it before you ended up paying an additional $20 million, at some inconvenience to half a million people?
Mr. ANGUS. Regrettably, it was not anticipated. At the time, we were trying to get naturalization quality procedures in place. For us, job one was integrity. We had to get the system to get a
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. SMITH. It seems to me those people would have been your first priority, rather than allowing the clearance process to expire.
I will come back to that in a minute; and I recognize the gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. Watt.
Mr. WATT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Just in fairness to Mr. Angus, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot interrupt the process of chronological filings and put people to the front of the line so that their fingerprints do not expire. You have to have it one way or another.
Mr. SMITH. If the gentleman will yield for a moment, I just assumedmaybe I am wrong. I assumed that the people who had the clearance expiring were the people who had been in the system the longest?
Mr. WATT. No. Unfortunately, they are the people who have been in the system the shortest, probably, because you are talking about a 6-month fingerprinting process. Anything that is more than 6 months has to be redone, is that not right? Or is it
Mr. ANGUS. Fifteen months. The rule is if 15 months expires from the time we receive an FBI response until the time of the ceremony
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. In that case, are those the people who have been in the system the longest who have had their clearances expired, or is that not necessarily the case?
Mr. ANGUS. Yes. That would be the case.
Mr. SMITH. Okay.
Mr. WATT. I am not going to try to go back and lambaste you for historical ineptitude. I think that is pretty self-evident in the system. What I want to do is to try to figure out how to get this system fixed and to get processing times down to what is reasonable.
I take it what you consider reasonable would be an objective of 6 months processing time, is that right?
Mr. ANGUS. That is correct.
Mr. WATT. And the way this gets financed, just for clarification purposes, is that none of the money to process naturalization applications gets appropriated by the Federal Government, am I correct in that?
Mr. ANGUS. That is correct.
Mr. WATT. We have not appropriated any money to improve the naturalization process for the last 7 or 8 years, as I understand it, up until 1997, that is?
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. ANGUS. I believe that is correct.
Mr. WATT. So the whole processing is paid for by the application fee, which is $95 per person, is that correct?
Mr. ANGUS. That is correct.
Mr. WATT. Now, how long has the application fee been $95?
Mr. MURPHY. I think it has been 4 years. I am not sure.
Mr. WATT. Before that it was what?
Mr. MURPHY. I think $90. I am not sure.
Mr. WATT. You raised it $5.
You did not read this part of your written statement, but I read it. On page 4 it says that, ''The INS has published a proposed regulation to increase the cost of immigrant benefit applications, including naturalization, to meet the costs actually incurred. The fee for naturalization would increase to $225.''
So the first question I have to ask is, do you need legislative authorization to increase the fee from $95 to $225, or can you do that through regulation?
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. ANGUS. We can do that through regulation.
Mr. WATT. How long will it be before we get to a $225 fee?
Mr. ANGUS. Commissioner Meissner has indicated, without bright lines, that there are some constructs that we need to be making progress toward before she would agree to raise the fee. They are: reducing the backlog, a uniform use of direct mail, opening of our application support centers, installation of our new automated claims system and a review of our fee waiver policy. All of those are under way.
Mr. WATT. That is fair enough. I didn't intend to do it this way. You actually gave me the opening to do it this way. You can't speed up the processing on the $95 fee. Obviously, there is a shortfall, because you are already saying it takes $225 to process the applications, isn't that right?
Mr. ANGUS. That is correct.
Mr. WATT. So then do I conclude that the information that also failed to make it into your oral statement, but is in your written statement, at the bottom of page 10 and going on over to page 11, is really what is going to be necessary to get us to a reduction in the backlog, as long as you continue not to raise the application fee?
I want to read what it is saying, because I think we are at the bottom line of this hearing, Mr. Chairman, right here.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
It says, ''To bring waiting times to 6 months by the end of fiscal year 1999, INS would require $97,661,000 and 290 positions in funding for use through fiscal year 2000.''
That is what the statement says, and I take it you stand behind that?
Mr. ANGUS. Yes, I do.
Mr. WATT. If you don't increase the fee to $225 to make up that $97 million, the only place to get it from is for us to appropriate it. And if one of those two things is not done, then the backlog is going to get longer, as I understand what you are saying. Am I overstating the case?
Mr. ANGUS. That is essentially correct, but may I add one caveat? The case is a little worse. We have already calculated into our enhancement fund for 1999 a $225 increase.
Mr. WATT. But you are saying you are not going to implement it, right?
Mr. ANGUS. No. We are proposing to implement it by October 1st.
Mr. WATT. October 1st of what year?
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ANGUS. 1998, if we can show these improvements.
Mr. WATT. Are you saying that you need the increase in fees from $95 to $225 plus $97 million to get the backlog down?
Mr. MURPHY. Actually, if I may, if we do not get the $225, we will not be able to afford our base resources that we are allocating each year out of the exams account.
Mr. WATT. Wait a minute. Let me be absolutely clear. Do we need the increase from $95 to $225, plus $97 million, or we need one or the other?
Mr. MURPHY. The $225 increase, or the increase to $225, will allow us to maintain our base resources, all right, which will get us by the end of 1999 to 10 to 12 months. There will be, based on that, a carryover at the end of 1998 and through 1999 that will fund most of the $90 million, but not all of it.
Mr. WATT. Try again. Right now, I don't know whether you are asking me for $97 million or what?
Mr. MURPHY. Yes. We are.
Mr. ANGUS. Yes.
Mr. SMITH. He said part of that was carried over. How much was carried over?
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. WATT. Set the Chairman at ease, please. He is about to have a heart attack. We have gotten to the bottom line here.
Mr. SMITH. Like you, I was looking for the answer. How much do you expect to be carried over? I assume it would be the $97 million minus the carryover amount you actually need.
Mr. MURPHY. Into 1998 we expect to carry over about $15 million.
Mr. WATT. You need $82 million to get the backlog to a manageable level? That is what you are saying?
Mr. MURPHY. Yes.
Mr. WATT. And you need that in the fiscal yearwhen?
Mr. MURPHY. We would need some of that starting this year.
Mr. SMITH. We will get to the point of whether they requested it in just a minute, Mr. Watt.
Mr. WATT. Thank you.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. The gentleman from Tennessee, Mr. Bryant.
Mr. BRYANT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to offer my congratulations to Mr. Angus on his appointment as Acting Executive Director.
What kind of impact would this increase in fee from $95 to $225 have on the applicants, as a general rule, from their standpoint? Does it discourage people?
Mr. ANGUS. It will certainly work a hardship, to the extent it is more than $95. We know there is great resistance to it within the community, particularly at a time when the view is that we are not providing a service that the community expects for their applications.
Mr. BRYANT. I guess that is, to some extent, some of the reluctance. Until you get certain things in place, then the Commissioner does not want to increase the fee?
Mr. ANGUS. The rule was proposed and the Commissioner went out and indicated that we would have to deliver on some performance improvements before she would approve the increase in the fee.
Mr. BRYANT. In an ideal world, and you may have alluded to this or may have answered it earlier, once you get everything in place, what would the average time period be to process a naturalization case? What would the average wait be?
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. ANGUS. The period of 6 months has been identified as an ideal period.
One of the reasons that we have really hesitated going beyond fiscal year 1999 in terms of projecting wait times is because we really believe we will recognize some efficiencies and some gains from our automation. Until we can get our automation up and fully implemented, which we are hoping will primarily be this fiscal year, we will not know what the reach of those advancements and efficiencies will be.
Mr. BRYANT. I understand that you are still operating with a significant number of paper files.
Mr. ANGUS. Absolutely, yes.
Mr. BRYANT. And there is some mention in something that I have read here that the budgetthe appropriators were saying that you have $11 million to help in the records infrastructure but that you folks are waiting to get $135 million to build a new records center for these hard documents, paper files. Is that really appropriate? Is that going to be necessary? I assume we all transition to more sophisticated recordkeeping.
Mr. ANGUS. Absolutely. Centralization of records is a critical part of our process. Being able to put the applicant and the adjudicator together at the same time with the file is one of the key integrity steps that allows us to do a complete and full adjudication.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. BRYANT. Won't these old paper files be converted, themselves, into computers?
Mr. ANGUS. Not by centralization. Centralization would just be moving the paper files to a centralized facility so we could, first, account for them and, secondly, more easily access and transfer them.
Mr. BRYANT. I will ask you one other question. I have not had a chance to review the enclosures or the attachments to your file, but I note the Chairman has requested a great deal of information from you in his letter. Do those enclosures completely and fully answer all of the inquiries? And, if not, when can we expect additional information?
Mr. ANGUS. As to the enumerated items in the Chairman's letter, I can tell you that the $67 million that was provided for fingerprinting requirements has been the mainstay of our ability to get 75 application support centers up, running and staffed. That accounts for that $67 million.
The $38 million to convert 400 temporary positions from temporary to term is substantially under way. Those are existing resources that were on board in the prior fiscal year and merely is moving a person from a temporary to a permanent position. I believe because of the churning that constantly goes on, I think we have done 300 of those at this particular point in the year.
Funding for our direct mail system has been allocated out to our service centers, and we have used it to fund 125 additional staff to assist with processing of applications.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Similarly, all the other items, the $14 million for backlog reduction, we have obligated up to this point about $8.7 million of that $14 million so far in this fiscal year, but we plan on obligating all of it.
All of the figures, Chairman Smith, that you submitted in your letter we have either spent, obligated or we have a planned use for. If you would like more specificity, I certainly would be glad to supplement the record.
Mr. BRYANT. In regard to the additional funding, is this the $97 million figure we are talking about for additional funding or not?
Mr. ANGUS. Technically, we are not asking at this point for additional funding. We have been pressed with what will it take to get down to the 6-month processing time, when I was in front of this subcommittee 2 weeks ago and Congressman Berman asked me that particular question. We were trying to be responsive to 6 months in the public's mind as an optimum period of time within which applicants would go through the naturalization process.
We are not asking for additional funding at this time. We are telling you what we believe we can do with our present funding levels and increased productivity, and to get down to 6 months by fiscal year 1999, what it would take.
Mr. BRYANT. Thank you.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Bryant.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
We welcome today a new member of the subcommittee, Mr. Jim Rogan of California. He just joined the subcommittee a couple of months ago and is taking the place of Sonny Bono, who unfortunately was killed in a violent accident, as we all know.
The gentleman from California, Mr. Rogan, is recognized.
Mr. ROGAN. Thank you for calling this hearing, Mr. Chairman. I thank our witnesses for participating. With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, those of us who knew Sonny Bono know that he is irreplaceable, and certainly not by an attorney. So, with that caveat, I do appreciate the welcome; and I appreciate the opportunity to join this subcommittee.
Mr. Angus, I wanted to follow up for a moment on the questioning from the gentleman from North Carolina and the gentleman from Tennessee respecting the application fee.
It is my understanding from your testimony that the $95 fee is a result of it being a fee-funded service, is that correct? In other words, people are paying what is supposed to be a fee to cover the cost of naturalization processing?
Mr. ANGUS. That is correct, although the $95, in today's dollars, does not cover our costs for processing a naturalization application.
Mr. ROGAN. If I understand Mr. Murphy's comment, it was $90 until about 4 years ago, when it was raised to $95.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MURPHY. Approximately. I will get you the correct information.
Mr. ROGAN. My assumption is, when it went from $90 to $95, it was raised to cover the costs of the service. That was the point of raising the fee 4 years ago?
Mr. ANGUS. I don't know. I don't know what the basis was.
Mr. MURPHY. We don't know what the background of that decision was.
Mr. ROGAN. Is that a fair assumption?
Mr. MURPHY. It is a fair assumption, yes.
Mr. ROGAN. The reason I am curious about that is, if we look at 4 years ago when the fee was increased from $90 to $95, it seems rather minimal. Now, 4 years later, we see the cost has gone from $95 to $225, which is more than double the entire fee. Is there any way to account for that?
Mr. ANGUS. Yes. We do have a study that I believe was prepared in the fall that documents the costs associated with the $225 figure. It was evaluated on a piece-by-piece basis as reflecting our true costs of handling a naturalization application, and we would be happy to provide the committee with that resource.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ROGAN. Do you have any idea when the actual cost of processing service outpaced the fee?
Mr. ANGUS. I don't have any idea, but I do know that with a paper file that has to move around the country with an applicant and end up at a point for an adjudication with fingerprinting and photographs and certificates, that there are substantial costs involved with the naturalization process.
Mr. ROGAN. That was the procedure, though, when it was still $90, wasn't it? I am assuming that has essentially been the procedure for processing these applications over at least the last decade or two?
Mr. ANGUS. That is correct.
Mr. ROGAN. Is it fair to assume that perhaps that $90 or $95 fee was somewhat arbitrary? Was it done without a study?
Mr. MURPHY. We were just passed a note by someone with historical knowledge. They told us the $90 to $95 increase was not a cost-based fee at the time.
Mr. ROGAN. The proposed fee of $225 fee, then, would be the first time it has been a cost-based fee?
Mr. MURPHY. That is a fair assumption, as far as we know, yes.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ROGAN. Then your prepared statementand I am not trying to shoot the messenger, I am just trying to follow thiswhen it refers to the naturalization process as a fee-funded service at $95, that is not correct, because it apparently never was a fee-funded service until a study was done showing it was severely underfunded?
Mr. MURPHY. That would be correct.
Mr. ROGAN. The other thing I wanted to ask, if I still have any time remaining, Mr. Chairman, was Commissioner Meissner's position thatand if I understand it, she doesn't want to increase the fee until service has improved. That is her position?
Mr. ANGUS. I believe that is a correct characterization, yes.
Mr. ROGAN. Does that get us into something of ''what came first, the chicken or the egg?'' We don't have the feeswe are not collecting the fees to pay for the service, it is supposed to be a fee-funded service, which now we know it isn't, and yet we are not going to raise the fees to simply cover the cost of the service until we improve the service. But we can't improve the service because of all of these constraints, many of them which I assume are funding constraints?
Does that put us in something of a box? If she holds to that position, doesn't that preclude our ability to simply get you folks on track?
Mr. ANGUS. We are projecting that we will deliver improved services by this summer. Our application support centers, by the end of this month, will all be up and operating. Our experience with our fingerprinting sites at those application support centers is that people are in and out generally in under a half-hour. We will have uniform use of direct mail by April 15th. All naturalization applications will be going to four centers by April 15th.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
The backlog reduced, that is where we are projecting by this summer we will begin to see gains from our additional resources and our improvement in productivity levels to show that we will be making progress in reducing the backlog and then installation of CLAIMS 4.0.
Mr. ROGAN. To the untrained eye, those of you who are not familiar with the ways of Washington committees, you can always spot the freshman member of the committee. We are the ones who actually obey the red light when it comes on.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the time; and I thank the gentleman for the testimony.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Rogan.
As things stand right now, Mr. Angus, I would say that most of the applications are handled manually, is that correct?
Mr. ANGUS. That is correct.
Mr. SMITH. You are trying to transition to a process that becomes increasingly more sophisticated, more technologically based, is that right?
Mr. ANGUS. That is correct.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. At what point do you think you will have made the transition 100 percent, where every application will be processed with the technological improvements that you propose?
Mr. ANGUS. If I may answer in two parts, by the end of this fiscal year we are projecting our automation system will be in place at all four of our service centers and at five of our major district offices which will account for about, I believe, 65 percent of our volume. We are seeking to have automation in all our districts by January 1999.
Mr. SMITH. Okay. So, in other words, after January 1999, 100 percent of the applications will be automated?
Mr. MURPHY. New applications.
Mr. SMITH. New applications.
Mr. MURPHY. Yes.
Mr. SMITH. You still have the old applications which will still require manual processing?
Mr. MURPHY. To a certain degree, yes.
Mr. WATT. If the gentleman will continue to yield for a second to clarify a point, the end of this year is January 1999, right? So if you are going to do five by the end of this year and you are saying all of them are going to be done by January 1999?
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. ANGUS. I meant fiscal year. I misspoke.
Mr. WATT. Fiscal year, all right.
Mr. SMITH. When would you project, if you can, that all applications, including old applications, would be processed under the new proposals?
Mr. ANGUS. The old applications need to be moved through the system. We will never be taking the old applications and keystroking them in.
Mr. SMITH. I understand that. But in the normal course of events, when will the old applications have been processed so 100 percent will then be using the new technology? Do you have any projections on that? Five years? Ten years?
Mr. MURPHY. Less than 5 years. It would depend on how quickly we get to the backlog.
Mr. SMITH. That goal of 6 months by the end of fiscal year 1999 will include some of the manual processing and some of the technological processing, is that the case?
Mr. ANGUS. Yes.
Mr. SMITH. Given that the manual processing takes longer and is cumbersome, and given the fact that the 6 months goal includes both manual and technological processing, then when we get to the point where all applications, including the backlogged applications, are processed using the new technological investments that you have talked about, should it be reasonable then that the goal would be shorter than 6 months, when you have the full system implemented?
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. ANGUS. It may well be.
Mr. SMITH. If it is 6 months with manual and technological processing, then when you go fully to the technological processing it will be, I presume, less than 6 months?
Mr. ANGUS. It is difficult to
Mr. SMITH. If the technological isn't any better than the manual
Mr. ANGUS. Technological is better than the manual in terms of, if we get accurate information on our customers, it allows us
Mr. SMITH. I understand all that, but my point is that you ought to be able to reduce that 6 months even more if you are fully using the technological improvements that you have suggested today.
Mr. ANGUS. A reasonable assumption.
Mr. SMITH. Okay. I will take that.
As far as the $97 million that you say you need in order to reach those goals and speed up the process, have you requested those funds in the 1999 proposed budget? Has the administration requested those funds in the DOJ budget?
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. ANGUS. No.
Mr. SMITH. Why is that? How do you expect us to believe that you are really serious about wanting to reduce the backlog when you have not requested the funds yourself?
Mr. ANGUS. What we have requested is consistent with what we requested in our reprogramming from July 1997. We do believe that
Mr. SMITH. Do you want to reduce the backlog time to 6 months?
Mr. ANGUS. Yes, we do.
Mr. SMITH. Then why don't you request the funds to do so in your own budget?
Mr. ANGUS. It will be debated.
Mr. MURPHY. Can we just say it is a timing issue. It was when the development of the budget actually occurred. It was well before this time.
Mr. SMITH. It is not too late to request it. Do you intend to request it or not?
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ANGUS. That is not my decision to make.
Mr. SMITH. I suspect if you were going to request it you already would have.
Is there anybody in the room who can tell us whether you intend to request it or not?
Mr. ANGUS. It is under consideration, but I don't think there is anybody in the room that can give you that answer.
Mr. SMITH. Okay. Perhaps because the answer is that the intent is not there.
I would simply say to you that that is a pretty obvious statement, verbal or nonverbal, of a lackthat is too hard on you all. I assume that you will request it if you are serious about reducing the time that it takes to process the backlog to 6 months or fewer.
I have additional questions, and I will come back in a minute.
The gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. Watt, is recognized.
Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, I just want to go on the record in favor of your making the request. It seems to me that it is difficult to say you want to get to a 6-month backlog and we know the amount of resources that we need to get to a 6-month backlog, yet we are too embarrassed because we have got the backlog to request the money that we need to get the backlog reduced. That does not seem to me to be the way we ought to proceed.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
If we have the backlog, there is no sense in being embarrassed about it. We know the backlog exists. We know that somebody's lack of efficiency or something has created a backlog. I don't even care about that. We know that the backlog exists. We have got to make the request.
As much as I will incur the ire of some of my colleagues and friends, it seems to me that we cannot say we are waiting for the process to improve. We are going to continue to give folks $95 service when we ought to be giving them $225 service because, historically, we have been giving them $95 service. You cannot give them $225 service unless you are serious about pressing the increase.
If that is not a good idea, then it seems to me Congress will have to tell you it is not a good idea. If Congress tells you it is not a good idea, then it seems to me that Congress at the same time would tell you that is too much of a fee, so we are going to subsidize it and pay the difference.
You cannot go both ways on this. If it costs $225 to process these applications, then we either have to get it from the people who are applying or Congress has to appropriate it.
Right now, what I hear you all saying is you are not prepared to do either one. You are not going to raise the fee, and you are not going to ask Congress to appropriate it. That seems to me to lead to just absolute disaster and never improve the system, or certainly never improve it to 6 months, which is our desired objective.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I hope you will carry that message to Ms. Meissner, that there are some people on this committee who feel strongly that the backlog needs to be shortened, and we buy into the objective of getting it to 6 months. I am not even worried about my optimistic Chairman, who starts asking you what happens after you get it to 6 months, can we get it lower than that. Let us get it to 6 months, and then we will start talking about how to get it lower than that, if that is an objective.
But I think there is uniform expectation, desire, hope, aspiration for a 6-month processing period. Right now, I don't see you all moving us in that direction.
I don't mean to minimize the value of decreasing the inefficiency. As I read this chart, just taking the inefficiency out of the process would reduce it from an average of 31 months down to an average of 10 to 12 months. That is the way I read your chart on page 10.
What we need to be talking about at the same time is how we reduce it from 10 to 12 months on down to our stated objective of 6 months, that is the question.
I think I will pass on any additional questions and yield back.
Mr. SMITH. The gentleman from California, Mr. Rogan.
Mr. ROGAN. Mr. Chairman, I would simply conclude by echoing the Chairman's sentiments with respect to the funding, although my mother always taught me to look for a cloud in every silver lining, and I think I found it here.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I almost feel as if I have been in the twilight zone. I saw the subcommittee chairman of the committee ask representatives of a Federal agency, would you like more money, and there was a balking, a halt, something I have never before. It makes me feel that there might indeed be hope for our Republic.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for calling this hearing; and I especially thank the hesitancy on that. I think we are off to a good start maybe to move into the next millennium.
Mr. SMITH. Mr. Angus, I don't have any other questions, but let me point out a couple of conclusions that I think are self-evident and should be obvious to you.
The first is I think you see a united front on the part of the members of the subcommittee that we do want you to reduce the time that individuals have to wait to become citizens. I think, frankly, that is as much their right as anything else, that we ought to speed up the process. There ought to be no undue delays, and we ought to use all the technological improvements that we possibly can.
At the same time, I would hope that the INS would use the money that they have already been given, and, as you said, have not used completely yet, to speed up the process.
Also, I appreciate you are saying it is a reasonable assumption that once we are fully automated we can get down below that 6-month goal. I think that should, in fact, be our goal.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
The other point is, I really think this is a litmus test for the administration. If they are serious about reducing the wait, reducing the length of time that individuals have to wait to become citizens, they will, in fact, request that additional $82 million. That would be an indication, I think, of their credibility on this subject and their sincerity in wanting to reduce the amount of waiting time.
Mr. WATT. The Chairman is going to support that, right?
Mr. SMITH. Yes.
Mr. WATT. Wonderful. You have it on record. He says he will support it if you request it.
Mr. SMITH. That shouldn't be a surprise, since as long as I have been the chairman of the subcommittee I think we have always supported the requests of the INS; and we have worked with Hal Rogers, the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee, to, as you know, more than double the budget of the INS over the last 4 years. There is no other agency that has seen their budget increase as quickly as the INS. So, as a rule, I think you will find a lot of supportive individuals here.
So I hope you will carry that message back, that we want the time reduced, and we want the administration to use the funds they have and to request additional funds if they are needed.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Again, we appreciate your first appearance here, your willingness to testify, and your good answers, and we thank you for being here.
Mr. ANGUS. Thank you.
[Whereupon, at 3:15 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]
(Footnote 1 return)
The 15 offices are: Baltimore, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, San Antonio, Seattle, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Boston, Newark, Miami, and San Diego.
(Footnote 2 return)
The additional 4 offices are: Harlingen, Denver, Philadelphia, and New York City.