SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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OPERATIONS OF THE CHICAGO DISTRICT OFFICE OF THE IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE
IMMIGRATION AND CLAIMS
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SIXTH CONGRESS
SEPTEMBER 13, 1999
Serial No. 14
Printed for the use of the Committee on the Judiciary
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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 S. SMITH, Texas
ELTON GALLEGLY, California
CHARLES T. CANADY, Florida
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio
BOB BARR, Georgia
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
ASA HUTCHINSON, Arkansas
EDWARD A. PEASE, Indiana
CHRIS CANNON, Utah
JAMES E. ROGAN, California
LINDSEY O. GRAHAM, South Carolina
MARY BONO, California
SPENCER BACHUS, Alabama
JOE SCARBOROUGH, Florida
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCDAVID VITTER, Louisiana
JOHN CONYERS, Jr., Michigan
BARNEY FRANK, Massachusetts
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
TAMMY BALDWIN, Wisconsin
ANTHONY D. WEINER, New York
THOMAS E. MOONEY, SR., General Counsel-Chief of Staff
JULIAN EPSTEIN, Minority Chief Counsel and Staff Director
Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims
LAMAR S. SMITH, Texas, Chairman
BILL McCOLLUM, Florida
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCELTON GALLEGLY, California
EDWARD A. PEASE, Indiana
CHRIS CANNON, Utah
CHARLES T. CANADY, Florida
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
JOE SCARBOROUGH, Florida
SHEILA JACKSON LEE, Texas
HOWARD L. BERMAN, California
ZOE LOFGREN, California
BARNEY FRANK, Massachusetts
MARTIN T. MEEHAN, Massachusetts
GEORGE FISHMAN, Chief Counsel
JIM WILON, Counsel
LAURA BAXTER, Counsel
CINDY BLACKSTON, Professional Staff
LEON BUCK, Minority Counsel
C O N T E N T S
September 13, 1999
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Smith, Hon. Lamar, a Representative in Congress from the State of Texas, and chairman, Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims
Biggert, Hon. Judy, a Representative in Congress from the State of Illinois
Davis, Hon. Danny K., a Representative in Congress from the State of Illinois
Gutierrez, Hon. Luis, a Representative in Congress from the State of Illinois
Hardy, James, Staff Assistant, Office of U.S. Representative William O. Lipinski, 3rd District of Illinois
Hummel, Thelma, Caseworker, Office of U.S. Representative Phillip M. Crane, 8th District of Illinois
Mandle, Shaye, District Director, Dennis J. Hastert, Speaker of the House of Representatives
Maneck, Linda, Caseworker, Office of U.S. Representative John Porter, 10th District of Illinois
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Ortman, Brenda, Congressional Assistant, Office of U.S. Representative Henry J. Hyde, 6th District of Illinois
Perryman, Brian, Chicago Office District Director, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
Schakowsky, Hon. Janice D., a Representative in Congress from the State of Illinois
LETTERS, STATEMENTS, ETC., SUBMITTED FOR THE HEARING
Biggert, Hon. Judy, a Representative in Congress from the State of Illinois: Prepared statement
Schakowsky, Hon. Janice D., a Representative in Congress from the State of Illinois: Prepared statement
Ortman, Brenda, Congressional Assistant, Office of U.S. Representative Henry J. Hyde, 6th District of Illinois: Prepared statement
OPERATIONS OF THE CHICAGO DISTRICT
OFFICE OF THE IMMIGRATION AND
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCNATURALIZATION SERVICE
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 1999
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Immigration
Committee on the Judiciary,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 9 a.m., in Room 2525, Dirksen Federal Building, 219 S. Dearborn Street, Chicago, Illinois, Hon. Lamar S. Smith [chairman of the sub/committee] presiding.
Present: Representatives Lamar S. Smith and Sheila Jackson Lee.
Staff present: George Fishman, Chief Counsel; Cynthia Blackston, Clerk; and Leon Buck, Minority Counsel.
OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN HYDE
Mr. HYDE. Will the committee come to order. Good morning. I would like to thank Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas, the chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee, for holding this hearing, which is of the utmost importance. One of the important functions of the House Judiciary Committee is to exercise oversight over the Justice Department and many of its subdivisions and certainly including the Immigration and Naturalization Service. And in the exercise of that oversight we are here today to see how the office is functioning, how it's serving the public and what, if anything, needs to be done to improve that service.
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We will hear testimony from at least four Members of Congress who will tell, firsthand, their experiences as it touches their offices. We will hear from staff who spend most of their time working on immigration problems for their constituencies, and then we will hear from the District Director, Mr. Perryman, and others from the INS and that will provide us with the information we need to conduct an effective oversight.
There will be sharp criticism of the INS today, and I want that criticism to be tempered by the fact that we are aware that the workload for this Chicago office is enormous. We also are well aware there are many dedicated employees in the INS as well as other governmental agencies. This is not an effort to bash bureaucrats. This is an effort to look at serious problems and see if we can be helpful.
Mr. Perryman has a daunting job and he has made headway. His office has made headway, most noticeably in cutting down waiting for naturalization, but we are a long ways from being where we feel we ought to be. I think we should remember how important the services provided by the Chicago office and by the INS itself can be.
When an immigrant is naturalized he or she can vote for the first time, can become a full member of society in this, his or her adopted home country. When an immigrant can adjust status from temporary to permanent residence, a whole panoply of protections and opportunities become available. Benefits this vital must be provided efficiently and fairly.
I look forward to hearing of the experiences of my colleagues and to hear from the INS itself what is to be done to make an intolerable situation more tolerable. Let me say that we, the House Judiciary Committee, will use every mechanism and resource available to us to improve services for the people of this community.
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Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me say at the outset that it's a privilege and an honor to be with Mr. Hyde in his home city, and we would not be here today but for his interest in the subject at hand.
I'm going to yield to the ranking member of the Immigration Subcommittee, Ms. Jackson Lee, for her opening statement, then I'll have my opening statement and then we'll proceed to the first panel. Ms. Jackson Lee is recognized.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Thank you very much, Mr. Smith, and thank you as well, Chairman Hyde, for your interest and leadership on these issues. This is the first, I hope, of other regional hearings and I would offer to say I would hope the next one might be in Texas. I am delighted to be here on this occasion to greet my colleagues, Mr. Davis and Ms. Biggert, Ms. Schakowsky, and Mr. Gutierrez, who are here, and I appreciate, very much, their presence.
It is important to note that this is a nation of laws, but we're also a nation of immigrants. We're founded on the values that we all are created equal and the opportunities for individuals to come and to be respected and to be treated with decency.
Thanking Mr. Smith and Mr. Hyde for holding this hearing, I, too, want to add my expressions and interest in being a problem solver, realizing that there have been concerns that have been expressed and particularly, I want to thank my colleague, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who responded to her constituents' concerns and has made this one of her crusades along with so many of the other leaders in Congress, Senator Dick Durbin and certainly Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who has led the effort in the United States Congress for fair and balanced immigration laws. I'm delighted to be participating today with a distinguished Illinois delegation and whether I have my facts correct, I am going to call my chairman, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the dean of this delegation, and I thank him for his hospitality.
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We have to answer the question what is the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims in Chicago to get today? I would hope that when we conclude you will acknowledge that we're here for solving problems and for better service.
In 1998 the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conducted a study that found that in the city of Chicago the number of citizenship applications rejected by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the last 3 months of 1998 was eight times that of the same period the previous year. During those months in 1998, 4,362 people were rejected, compared with 525 of the previous year. The study also pointed out that people fully qualified for citizenship have seen their applications for citizenship denied because the INS had told them they had failed to attend interviews, take exams, submit documentation, or failed to meet the disability requirements for exam waivers.
In a March 5, 1999, article in the Chicago Sun-Times it was reported that the INS turned down the citizenship application of a 73-year-old woman who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease because she failed an exam. In another article in the Chicago Daily Herald as recently as August 9, 1999, it was reported that people started lining up at 5 a.m. each day at the INS office in Chicago to get their paperwork processed. Once there, they faced a grueling and oftentimes appalling experience. There are innumerable amounts of reports that people must endure waits of 4 hours or more, rude, unprepared employees, and an intimidating atmosphere in Chicago. Some of the people who need help only need to get a form or ask a question, but resort to waiting in line because they can't get accurate information over the phone.
It is also reported that the INS in Chicago only serves 600 applicants a day. The rest are turned away and forced to repeat the whole experience another day.
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Upon hearing about these many complaints from her constituents, Congresswoman Schakowsky decided to visit the Chicago office unannounced. When she did she, too, unfortunately, was treated inappropriately.
It should not take pressure by Members of Congress or by anyone else to ensure that the INS or any agency with the Federal Government treat people with respect, have a professional work force and atmosphere, have highly trained employees who know what they are doing and perform in an efficient and timely manner. Let me emphasize, again, I applaud Federal employees. I support them and I realize that there is a great deal of energy behind many of the employees and leadership of the INS office in Chicago to improve. I applaud that and welcome that and look forward to hearing from you with your suggestions as well.
This subcommittee is meeting in Chicago today because apparently the ingredients that I have mentioned, however, are one of the elements that we need to hear with further detail so that we can help improve the INS, not only in this region, but all over the country. I am encouraged after reading Mr. Perryman's testimony that improvements are underway. His testimony highlights these improvements, such as adding employees to answer questions from people waiting in line, professional development for his employees, changing the procedures so that people needing new green cards can obtain them by mail, attempting to create a team atmosphere among the employees, working with public libraries to distribute INS forms, and publicizing the INS forms request line though ethnic media.
Mr. Perryman also points out that the INS workflow is heavier this year and will make 40,000 new citizens this year, more than double the number last year. However, the Chicago office must change as the increased workflow gets heavier.
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It was recently reported in the Chicago Tribune that a Chinese student majoring in computer science at the University of Illinois applied for a temporary work permit and after the standard 90 days had passed she never heard back from the Chicago office. We, of course, must be more responsive. When she decided to drive to the Nebraska office, she was told to return to Chicago. When she did, the Chicago office had long since closed. Unfortunately, there are too many stories like this that the Chicago office is known for. This situation must drastically improve immediately.
This subcommittee could probably hold a field hearing in almost every district within the INS. Since I have assumed the ranking member position, I have heard from many of my colleagues and some call my office about their concerns of the INS. These complaints range from impolite treatment by the INS employees to slow processing of cases and green cards and poor service. The S in INS does stand for service, and that is also the mission of the INS. The problems within the INS do not start or stop with the Chicago district office, but we in Congress must work with you collectively to make this agency work for all of the people, and that's why I hope that during this hearing we will able to glean more information in our efforts to reform and restructure the INS for the better.
In closing, I am interested in hearing from all of the witnessesthe immigrants, the staff persons, the Members of Congress, Mr. Perryman, what you have done and what you look forward to us doing in improving the situation here in Chicago. I want to hear what the agency needs overall to improve and respond and improve its conditions all over the nation. Our job is to ensure that the Federal Government must be the very best for all of the people, all of the time. I yield back the balance of my time.
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Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Ms. Jackson Lee.
Let me add my thanks to the witnesses, both colleagues from Congress who are sitting in front of us and other witnesses who are testifying today as well. Also, thanks need to go to Judge Aspen. This is his courtroom, and we appreciate his sharing his space with us.
We are holding this hearing today because of Congress' serious concerns over the manner in which the Chicago district office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service is being operated. Chairman Hyde requested that the subcommittee hold this hearing because of the unacceptable way in which many of his own constituents had been treated and because of concerns expressed to him by other members of the Illinois House delegation.
The Chicago Tribune recently summed up the apparent situation in an editorial, and let me quote from that editorial. ''It's not clear whether some officers at the Chicago office of INS are taking advantage of their unequal relationship with immigrants, are poorly trained, boorish, or all of the above, but the inordinate number of complaints about the incompetent, rude, and abusive behavior on the part of the INS here are reason for grave concern.''
It is very troubling when personnel of any Federal agency are described this way, but especially so when they work for the INS. No other branch of the Federal Government plays a more central role in the lives of immigrants, and we certainly don't want it to poison their feelings toward America. But the victims of this kind of service are not just immigrants. American citizens can have their lives turned upside down by an uncaring and unresponsive agencycitizens who marry foreign spouses and citizens who adopt foreign children, for example.
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We must acknowledge that the INS in Chicago faces many challenges. The caseload it must handle each year is staggering. When legal immigration in America averages 700 to 900,000 persons per year, when millions of non-immigrants come to America each year, the burden on the INS to process all these people is obviously significant. When the number of immigrants applying for naturalization quadruples, as it did a few years ago, INS offices in immigrant-heavy cities, such as Chicago, must somehow dig out from under the crush.
In response to these pressures, waiting lists and processing times will inevitably grow, but 2- and 3-year waits to be naturalized or to have one's status adjusted to permanent residence are not acceptable under any circumstances. Of course, sometimes the field gets questionable orders from INS headquarters in Washington, such as to put everyone on naturalization detail and let the other backlogs grow without bound. But there is no excuse for rude service, incompetence, and lost files.
What is the solution? Part of it may be structural, breaking up the INS into two agencies, one devoted to service to immigrants and one devoted to enforcement of our immigration laws, and Congress will address this issue very soon. But part of the solution must be to introduce in the INS the same devotion to customer satisfaction that has revolutionized the business world.
Today we will hear testimony from four U.S. Representatives from the Chicago area and four district employees who work for other members of the Illinois delegation. They will talk about immigrant constituents who come to them with no other place to turn. They will talk about how even Members of Congress sometimes feel powerless in the face of a massive bureaucracy. You will also hear from an American citizen who had her own story to tell about the Chicago office and INS District Director Brian Perryman, will testify about the challenges he faces daily and the initiatives he has undertaken to improve the services of the Chicago office.
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That concludes our opening statements. We will now go to our first panel of witnesses, and I will introduce them. First, the Honorable Luis Gutierrez, U. S. Representative, Forth District of Illinois; the Honorable Janice D. Schakowsky, U.S. Representative, Ninth District of Illinois; the Honorable Judy Biggert, U.S. Representative, Thirteenth District of Illinois; and the Honorable Danny K. Davis, U.S. Representative, Seventh District of Illinois.
We welcome you all. Mr. Gutierrez, we will begin with you, and I understand you have a conflict coming up shortly. So we want to get off to a good start and appreciate your being here.
STATEMENT OF HON. LUIS GUTIERREZ, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Mr. GUTIERREZ. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to welcome you and Congresswoman Jackson Lee to Chicago. For many years I thought that it would be a constructive step for you and the ranking member and members of your committee to visit our city and view, first-hand, the significant and indispensable contributions that immigrants are making to the community and our country. And I want to give a special thanks to my dear friend, suddenly the dean of this delegation, Chairman Hyde, for having the foresight of calling this meeting together. Thank you very much, Mr. Hyde, for your leadership on this issue.
I want to delineate my greatest concerns about the INS and some of the specific proposals I have made to address them. Mr. Chairman, I have often pointed out that the Immigration and Naturalization Service must dedicate itself to improving the manner in which it addresses the needs of people who require, deserve, and pay for the services that the agency is charged with fulfilling. As you know, Mr. Chairman, I serve as the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Task Force on Immigration, and it will be in that capacity that I need to return to Washington, because this is Hispanic Week in Washington with our gala on Wednesday and I'm chairing Immigration Task Force hearings today and tomorrow with hundreds of people from across the country coming together. So we're doing our work together, both this committee and back in Washington.
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I've acted as one of the most vocal critics of an agency that fails day in and day out to provide a level of service that in many ways reflects an appropriate level of respect for its customers. I've called for a speedy resolution for the intolerable backlog affecting those who have awaited actions on their applications for U.S. citizenship. And as the representative of one of the most diverse congressional districts, I have assisted thousands of people in the Chicago area who have experienced ongoing frustration in dealing with the INS. My priority is to ensure that every individual who has done what is required of them to enjoy the rights and fulfill the responsibilities of U.S. citizenship can reach that goal in a timely manner.
Compelling the INS to regard the people who need their services as customers is something that I have been urging Commissioner Meissner to do for several years. Most notably, in the fall of 1997, when the INS first announced it was considered raising, by more than a hundred percent, its fees for citizenship and other forms of adjustment I made the plea to them that they not simply double their fees, but also redouble their efforts to serve immigrants who deserve service that is delivered efficiently, speedily, and respectfully. At that time, my main concern arose from and still is today, the speed and lack thereof with which action was taken. I'm not talking about having to wait in line for several hours, which is inexcusable, but about the even more inexcusable situation of waiting two, three, and 4 years for a decision on your application for citizenship. To me, deferring and delaying action on pending cases was the surest sign of the INS' indifference to individual immigrants. Keep in mind, despite the rhetoric that too often surrounds this issue, expediting or simply performing within an acceptable amount of time does not mean undermining the integrity of the system.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The one clear point that I want to leave stronger than any other with this panel is that no reasonable or acceptable excuse exists for a backlog of 1,900,000 people waiting to become citizens nationwide. I have supported more funding, legislation to change procedures and suggested numerous ways to force the INS to recognize that an immigrant who needs their assistance and pays significantly for that service in fees and in taxes deserves courteous, efficient, and timely service.
Whether we are talking about the routinely inadequate service that my constituents and people from throughout the midwest receive here in our regional office or whether we are examining the inefficient level of service nationwide, bold and aggressive steps must be taken to completely reshape and reform the way the INS operates. I am pleased that our local INS office and Director Perryman are beginning to respond positively to suggestions that immigration advocates, my colleagues, and I have been making, and in that sense I would like to echo the comments made by Chairman Hyde when we originally began this hearing. But changes such as larger waiting areas and more efficient distribution of forms, while important, just represent the smallest of a Titanic-sized iceberg of problems and frustrations immigrants face at the INS.
I know from speaking with constituents and being approached by them every day of the year that the major concern remains the backlog and the processing of naturalization and adjustment of residence status. I want this committee and Mr. Perryman and INS Director Meissner to have no misunderstanding that the lengthy waiting times for critical, fundamental citizenship and naturalization services that my constituents have paid for, have earned, and deserve remain absolutely unacceptable.
Other concernscomfort, convenience, politeness, efficiencyare certainly key components of the changes the INS should make. Far too many Chicago area residents and constituents of mine routinely receive a level of service and courtesy that would make any private enterprise ashamed and would put them out of business. However, I will be no more satisfied if you do more than simply promise to accompany these delays with a smile and a nicer waiting room.
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So my message today to the INS and to this committee is that you must heighten and increase your commitment to fixing these very serious problems. Listen to and act on the very substantive and practical suggestions that immigration advocates, my colleagues, and I have made on this issue. Let's assure that we have adequate funding to hire more examiners and put more people to work directly in processing applications. Let's assure that the very expensive revenue citizenship applications generate is put to work exclusively to solve this problem. Let's fight aggressively for smart, commonsense programs like the reinstatement of 245i, a pro-family, pro-immigration immigration initiative that generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury. Let's hire and promote and put in leadership positions individuals who have a commitment to N in the INS; people who understand the vital role that naturalizing new citizens plays in our nation and who are just as concerned about service as about enforcement. Let's put in place more sensible and effective measures to streamline the naturalization process without sacrificing the integrity of the system, and let's finally take on a much needed overhaul of the way the INS is organized and worked. Let's do it the right way; a way that puts legal immigrants first. I ask this committee to help us in implementing these workable goals and I ask the committee to recognize there's a right way and a wrong way to compel the INS to improve its work.
In this regard, let me say a few words about H.R. 2528, legislation proposed by the chairman, Mr. Smith, Mr. Rogers, and Mr. Reyes. I believe this legislation clearly represents the wrong way to solve this problem. The INS should be dramatically improved and reformed, but in a way that results in greater efficiency. The legislation under discussion today, I believe, will lead to the opposite scenarioconsiderably more bureaucracy, coupled with a lack of adequate funding streams. I believe that dividing and dismantling the INS will primarily result in a diminishment of the relative importance attached to issues affecting immigrant communities and would erode the attention that these matters receive from members of the legislative and executive branches. It will also lead to an unfortunate competition for resources which I fear would threaten our ability to fulfill the true needs of America's immigrant population.
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Make no mistake, advocates for immigrants' rights do not support the status quo. We have, in fact, led the call for substantial, immediate, innovate reforms at the INS, often to the chagrin of the agency. However, we also recognize that H.R. 2528, while changing the structure of the system, would actually reinforce the status quo. As is the case today, immigrants would confront an array of problems and have access to fewer opportunities for redress of their grievances. That's why I oppose this bill and urge my House colleagues to work instead to arrive at a legislative vehicle that will, first and foremost, improve services to immigrants while achieving great efficiency, controlling costs, and maintaining the integrity of our nation's immigration laws.
I once again thank the committee for coming to my hometown today. I think this is a very important step and I would like to take a moment, Mr. Chairman, to say that the INS is changing and I want you to know that and we're going to hear criticism because they need to continue to change, but I think it would be unfair to criticise them and to say that they're not trying to move in the right direction. There are still many areas. I remember 2 years ago, Mr. Chairman, when I went to the INS and I said, ''There are thousands of people who have been waiting 2 years or more to become a citizen.'' And they had their official spokesperson go before the media and basically said there was something wrong with Congressman Gutierrez because they had no more than 500 people who they knew of that had been waiting 2 years or more to become a citizen. Well, the following Saturday, 3 days after that, over 1,800 people showed up to a workshop in two different parts of my congressional district. Obviously, not all of the people being supplied services by this office. That has changed dramatically to the point where today you call upon Mr. Perryman and he will come out with his staff and you can put a hundred fifty, 200 constituents together and they will bring the staff to do that and to take a look at their situation.
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So yes, things are changing. More applications are being distributed, and we need to do more of that. I think one of the things that could clearly help is to give a little bit of a manner for the INS to know what applications and forms can be at our congressional offices, because I think we all have great staffs that can also help the INS. It's not simply a matter of pressing the INS, but seeing what we can do in our own congressional office to better affect the services of our people. I think there are many things.
I would also like to say that it's really great to be in Chicago where I think, Mr. Chairman and Ms. Jackson Lee, you have Jan Schakowsky, you have Ms. Biggert, you have Danny Davis, you have myself, and so I'm very proud to be at this table with my other three colleagues because we have a deep and fundamental commitment and, of course, that raises a huge problem of oversights, I'm sure, from the perspective of the INS, because in this city of Chicago they have many Congresspersons who are watching them and will continue to watch, but continue to work with them.
So I want to be critical and I want to be fair and I want to say thank you, Mr. Chairman, Lamar Smith. I look to, how would I say, true bipartisanship. I feel that too many times in the past positions on issues have clashed and have not left us with the best working relationship among all of our colleagues in the Congress of the United States and so, I come here today to disagree, but not to be disagreeable and to say, Mr. Chairman and ranking member, I hope to be able to sit down with you and with the respect that you deserve in your capacity to say that I disagree, but at the same time that I know that your heart and that your mind is in the right place. We all want to improve this together.
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Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Gutierrez, for your testimony. Let me say I think I paid a slight price for being generous with the 5 minute rule because it wasn't until after the 5 minutes that you mentioned that bill that I had co-sponsored. But I do have to point out since you mentioned the bill that it does have 90 co-sponsors, 35 percent of whom are Democrats, including last year's chairman of the Hispanic Caucus. But that is an example of a bill where you and I can sit down and talk, discuss it, and see if we can't reach a bipartisan agreement on how to proceed.
Mr. GUTIERREZ. Mr. Chairman, I don't want to be disrespectful to my colleagues, so I would ask for their permission and the permission of the committee to go grab the 11 o'clock flight to Washington, D.C., if I could.
Mr. SMITH. Okay. Thank you again for your testimony, Mr. Gutierrez, and let me point out for the sake of those who are at this hearing today that we are going to try to expedite this process because not only do people have meetings, but the rest of us actually have votes in Washington later on this afternoon. So I am going to need to follow the 5 minute rule and I was remiss in not mentioning it earlier. We have 11 witnesses, and by the time we hear from those witnesses and the members up here ask their questions, it's going to take a long time if we don't limit all witnesses, and not just members, but subsequent witnesses as well, to the 5 minutes. Unfortunately, we're are not set up here as we are in Washington. We don't have a red light that's going to go on at the end of 5 minutes. So in lieu of that I'm just going to have to gently rap a gavel at the 5 minutes and hopefully witnesses will able to finish up shortly after that.
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We will now proceed to Ms. Schakowsky for her testimony.
STATEMENT OF HON. JANICE D. SCHAKOWSKY, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Ms. SCHAKOWSKY. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and Chairman Hyde and Representative Jackson Lee. Thank you so much for conducting this hearing here today. I also want to, as a new member, to acknowledge all of those who have been working on this issue, particularly my colleague, Representative Luis Gutierrez, and all their years of experience here. I'm a newcomer.
The Census Bureau says that Chicago is fourth behind New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in attracting new immigrants. Close to 60 percent of immigrants to Illinois are choosing to resettle in Chicago and the metropolitan area and my district serves as a gateway to America for immigrants from all parts of the globe, yet I was still surprised that in my district congressional office over 90 percent of the constituent cases involv the INS. I got lots of calls immediately, even before I was sworn in, from constituents and immigrant rights advocates complaining of poor service and callous treatment by the INS, and I applaud the efforts of Commissioner Doris Meissner and District Office Director Brian Perryman to improve the quality of service in Chicago, and indeed, changes have been made that are important, but we have a long way to go.
I want to briefly share with you some observations on issues related to the delivery of service, some suggestions on what must be done to improve them, to address the way in which people who are seeking asylum are treated, the special needs of elderly immigrants and immigrants with disabilities and the arbitrary manner with which disability waivers are granted. I have included with my written testimony a letter written by a constituent of mine and seven cases that have been presented from the director of the Illinois branch of the American Association of Immigrants from the former USSR, and I would ask permission that these be included as part of the record.
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Mr. SMITH. Without objection, they will be.
Ms. SCHAKOWSKY. Thank you. After hearing all these horror stories from my constituents, on July 7th, without identifying myself as a Member of Congress, I went down to what had become kind of the infamous line in front of 10 West Jackson that would snake around the block, around the corners, around the buildings, around a thousand people often, particularly during the summer, but also in the winter in the dead of cold, Chicago winters, in the rain and in the broiling heat that we had been experiencing. People would line up beginning at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. I got there at 9 when over a thousand people were in line and along with my staff began to interview people and talk to them. And I'll tell you some of things that I heard, but when I got to the front door at about 10:30 in the morning the INS official came out and announced that no more people would be admitted and they needed to be turned away and there was some hullabaloo at the front door and I was there and I guess I didn't move quickly enough because the INS officer looked at me and said, ''Move or go to jail.''
So I went up to her and I said, ''I really don't appreciate being talked to that way.'' And she said, ''Well, who are you?'' And I said, ''Well, first of all I'm a human being, and no one should be talked to that way. And secondly, I'm a member of the United States Congress.'' And that began really a series of events that I think have, in some respect, contributed to the improvements. But what we heard from people that were in that long line, we talked to a woman who had filed for naturalization 4 years ago. She found out after waiting in line for 12 hours last month that the INS had lost her paperwork. An INS employee, a supervisor, told her she had to return another day, resubmit all her paperwork, had to pay the fees again, and she had already paid more than $2,000 in this whole process.
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Another person, the INS incorrectly printed the date of birth on a green card of a 12-year-old girl. An INS official briskly informed the family that they must fill out another application, wait in line, resubmit the paperwork, and pay fees once again. A woman received notification of the time and date of her oath ceremony after it was scheduled to occur twice. The third time she never received notification, only a phone call 12 hours before the appointment was scheduled to take place. A woman spent 2 days in line just to receive a naturalization form, an N-400. She was unable to get it the first day and was not told by any INS official that she could get the form online or by calling an 800 number. A family with small children waited in line for 4 hours, only to be told that they had to return the next day. And on and on. I have a number of these listed.
What these stories really indicate is a larger problem of too few front line INS employees, too little information, wrong information, no information at all, inquiries made by telephone often met by a busy signal, et cetera. I also want to say at the Chicago office there seems to be an overwhelming presence of uniformed guards at the facility. I've been at lots of Federal buildings, as you all have, and there's always guards to protect the buildings. I understand that, but it does seem to me that the guards are there more to hold the INS customers in check, rather than to protect the public in any way, and I find it rather insulting.
I'm concerned about the hours of operation. There's no Friday hours. There's certainly no evening or weekend hours. There's supposed to be an information officer available in the lobby from 7:30 to 4:00, not there.
I'd ask permission. I've a few more items I'd like to present to you.
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Mr. SMITH. Please proceed, but we need to move on as well.
Ms. SCHAKOWSKY. Okay. All right. I won't go into the improvements, because I hope that Mr. Perryman will and I endorse those, but the backlog. The American Immigration Lawyer's Association looked at the 38 INS district offices and issued a report card, and Chicago failed to make the grade. If you filed an application for permanent residence in Chicago it would take between 540 and 720 days to process the application, while the same application would take between 90 and 120 days if filed in Seattle. In Chicago the waiting period between naturalization filing and swearing in is 365 days to 540 days, I think if you're lucky, and only 30 to 60 days in Pittsburgh. So we need to do that.
If you lose your driver's license, Mr. Chairman, you can go to a DMV facility and get it the same day, pay $10. If you lose your green card, 7 months and $110 until you get that replaced. We have the technology, why does it take so long?
Even though the fees have increased dramatically, a hundred and thirty-seven percent, people are paying for these services, they ought to be able to get it.
Briefly, the interview process, I went with a woman who was denied a medical waiver even though two doctors had asserted that she had dementia, she couldn't remember her own phone number. When I went with her she was granted it, but it's a very intimidating process. She had to take a nitroglycerin tablet. Two weeks before that someone died in Chicago after taking the test. It doesn't need to be so intimidating, and we should have specially trained people doing the waivers, the medical waivers. There's no reason for them to be denied. We need to understand the differences between senior citizens, their need for special treatment. They need large print, translation services, seats for them to sit down in, and persons with disabilities need to be treated with respect.
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Detention facilities are a problem in Chicago. We have women in a drunk tank in Stone Park, Illinois, even though I was told that was being changed. I think they are still there in a drunk tank in Stone Park. Others are mingled with prisoners. Men are mingled with other prisoners and not distinguished from them when we rent space in the INF. Eighty-one prisoners in all of Illinois. I understand that they may be released today. They've been sitting there since June even though they're credible, 81 people in all Illinois from China lingering there since the end of June.
I am concerned. In summary, let me just say that the changes that have been made be permanent changes, that they're not just bringing people in from the airport, as I've heard, on a temporary basis, but they're going to be there to serve people. We love our immigrants here in Chicago. They're an important part of our community and they deserve to be treated better.
I've listed all of the ways in which I think that the people can be helped. Know your rights presentations made to detainees, working in partnership with the employees of the INS, members of the union and other staff to enact these improvements. I think that we can do it. We need to do it here in Chicago with our glorious diversity that we have here that we so much appreciate. Our immigrants deserve better than they're getting, and I hope with your committee's help that they can get it.
Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Hon. Janice D. Schakovsky follows:]
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. JANICE D. SCHAKOWSKY, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
I would like to thank Chairman Hyde, Chairman Smith, Congresswoman Jackson-Lee and members of the Subcommittee for holding this hearing and allowing me the opportunity to address the operations of the Chicago district office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Your interest and commitment to exploring the issues and problems facing immigrants who seek service at our Chicago office is important and worthy of our time and attention.
According to Census Bureau data, Chicago is fourth behind New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco in attracting new immigrants. Close to 60% of immigrants to Illinois are choosing to resettle in Chicago and the metropolitan area.
Chicago is a city of immigrants and is proud of its diversity. However, it is disheartening to know that the first interaction these new residents will have with our government will be with an agency that puts customers last.
My district serves as a gateway to America for immigrants from all parts of the globe. In my district congressional offices, over ninety percent of constituent cases involve the INS. I receive a large number of calls and letters from my constituents and immigrant rights advocates complaining of poor service and callous treatment by INS staff. Training, increased staffing and changes in procedure at the Chicago office are needed to reflect a level of courtesy, professionalism and efficiency deserving of paying customers. Most of all, a change in the culture of the INS office is required, one that reflects the respect that our city feels for our immigrant residents.
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Efforts by Commissioner Doris Meissner and District Office Director Brian Perryman to improve the quality of service in Chicago, provide sensitivity and customer service training to employees, and their willingness to work with the Illinois delegation should be applauded. However, much work remains to be done in order to ensure the delivery of prompt, accurate and courteous service at the Chicago office.
Today's hearing is an essential component in our efforts to reshape the Chicago INS office to provide quality customer service.
This morning, I will briefly share with you some observations on issues related to the delivery of services at the Chicago office, and some suggestions on what must be done to improve and enhance the Chicago district office. I will also address the way in which people who are seeking asylum are treated, the special needs of elderly immigrants and immigrants with disabilities, and the arbitrary manner in which disability waivers are granted.
I have included with my written testimony an articulate and compelling letter written by Ms. Carrie Golus, from Chicago, which really highlights many of the issues we are discussing today.
10 West Jackson and the line
After hearing countless INS horror stories from my constituents, I decided to spend the morning of July 7th at the INS facility at 10 W. Jackson Boulevard. On that morning, I intentionally did not identify myself as a Member of Congress. I was simply a human being attempting to navigate the INS system.
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I arrived at 9 a.m. to a massive line of more than 1000 people, only 600 of whom would be allowed in that day. Many had begun lining up at 4 or 5 a.m. The line snaked around the building, down the sidewalk and around the block. This was not unusual. Every day, several hundred people wait for 3 to 4 hours only to be turned away. For many, this was their second, third or fourth visit. I spoke with many frustrated customers who had taken time off from work only to be denied service. Let us not forget that they are customers, paying high fees for services.
What I witnessed was hostile, inept, and downright unacceptable treatment of hundreds of people. The INS seems to be sanctioning, if not promoting, a ''customer is always wrong'' policy. This was reflected in arbitrary rudeness and appalling incompetence. A large number of people I spoke with recounted their humiliation and degradation at being treated ''like animals.'' I experienced this first hand, as an INS officer barked at me to ''move or go to jail'' because I did not follow instructions quickly enough.
Here are some of the horror stories I heard during my visit:
A woman filed for naturalization four years ago. She found out, after waiting in line for twelve hours last month, that the INS lost her paperwork. An INS employee and a Supervisor told her that she must return another day and resubmit all her paperwork. She will have to pay all the fees once again. She has already paid more than $2000.
The INS incorrectly printed the date of birth on the green card of a twelve-year-old girl. An INS official brusquely informed the family that they must fill out another application, wait in line, resubmit the paperwork and pay the fees once again.
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Due to numerous mistakes made by the INS, a woman had returned to the INS facility to wait in line for a second day. INS employees misspelled her name on her most recent green card. She verified on her application that she had spelled her name correctly. She called the INS and was told that she must come to 10 W. Jackson and wait in the line to submit paperwork. She had already waited for seven hours the previous day. When she finally spoke with an INS representative, she was told that she needed to bring photos. She was in line once more to submit more paperwork and the photos. Finally, she will have to pay another fee for a new green card, even though the INS is responsible for the error.
A woman received the notification of the time and date of her oath ceremony after it was scheduled to occurtwice. A third time, she never received notification, only a phone call 12 hours before the appointment was scheduled to take place.
A couple from Taiwan applied for their 11 year old daughter to become naturalized. They visited the Chicago office three times, were treated rudely and were given the wrong form to file. It wasn't until their third visit that they were given the correct form. They were told they needed to pay the fee again, start from scratch and wait the full length of time until the application was processed.
A woman spent two days in line just to receive a naturalization form (N400). She was unable to get it the first day and was not told by any INS official that she could get the form online or by calling an 800 number.
A family with small children waited in line for four hours only to be told that they had to return again the next day. At 10:30 a.m., INS officers announced that no more people would be served that day.
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A large number of people were standing in line because of mistakes that INS made, and despite the stated policy of waiving further fees if the INS is clearly at fault, customers are still being required to pay additional fees and repeat arduous steps even though they were not responsible for the mistake.
A couple from Belleville, 6 hours away, found out only by chance that they could get in to see an INS employee even though they were not one of the lucky 600. Apparently a policy exists that guarantees service to people who travel long distances. The randomness with which this policy is communicated is not acceptable. Information of this nature that affects the direct delivery of services should be actively disseminated and made known to all information officers and customers.
These stories are really indicative of the larger problem of too few front-line INS employees with too little information. People are given wrong information, bad information, or no information at all. Many people wait in line because they are confused by INS information, or because different INS employees had given them conflicting information.
Inquiries made by telephone are often met with a busy signal or an answering machine, forcing many people to make a special trip to the office for information that should be made readily available on site or by phone, fax or computer. The INS must expand its partnership with libraries to make INS forms available, and they must reach out to include other government agencies and ethnic community organizations in that effort.
At the Chicago office, there seems to be an overwhelming presence of uniformed guards at the facility. It feels as if the guards are there to hold these INS customers in check and to protect the public from them, which I find very insulting. We must find a balance between the security needs of the office and the desire to provide and foster a more friendly, customer service environment.
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I am also concerned about the hours of operation and the staffing level in the Chicago office. It is my understanding that the public is unable to visit the INS on Fridays without an appointment. This is the only federal agency that I am aware of where this exists. Given the demands on the office and current backlog, the office should be open five days a week and consideration should be given to having evening and weekend hours as well.
Also, information officers are supposed to be available in the lobby from 7:30 AM until 4:00 PM each day. However, on many occasions, the information officer is no where to be found after 2 PM. In many sections of the office, where there are multiple windows set up to assist customers, only one or two of the windows are actually being staffed. This needs to be addressed and improved.
These are all components of a mosaic that sends a clear and simple message to immigrants: Keep Out. This is not the message I want to send to residents of my district.
Subsequent to my appearance at the line in July and the accompanying media coverage, and after several meetings with District Office Director Perryman and conversations with Commissioner Meissner, several changes have made. These changes resulted in some much-needed improvements for INS customers. I am not a management consultant, but common sense would seem to dictate many of these reforms.
Tickets are given out to the first 600 people at 7 am each morning so that others will not miss work while standing needlessly in line. INS information officers are working the line, answering questions. In addition, certain applications, including the form to renew green cards, are now being processed through the mail. More informative information sheets are being distributed to visitors as they enter the building and a ''forms kiosk'' is now stationed on the first floor near the public entrance of the building, allowing people access to forms without having to wait in line or go to the second floor information room.
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Working with immigrant advocacy groups and other community-based organizations, my office is monitoring the activities at 10 W. Jackson on a daily basis, and I am getting regular reports.
Changes made to date must remain permanent and additional reforms put in place. There is still much more that needs to be done to make service acceptable. INS employees must be well trained and there must be an adequate number of them to meet the needs. Subsequently, once they are given the tools, they must then be held to high standards of professionalism.
Supervisors should be present throughout the office and active in their observations of staff interactions with customers. If unacceptable behavior is witnessed or inaccurate information is given, they must have the authority to address the situation.
Commissioner Meissner announced in August that the Chicago district office would begin to provide cultural diversity/sensitivity training to employees starting in the fall. I would be interested in seeing documentation of the training and classes, who is conducting the training, the nature of the training, when it's taking place, and who is attending.
To make this training as productive as possible, I hope that the district office will work closely with employees to identify specific needs and the most effective training methods. Employees should also be encouraged to provide suggestions on how best to deal with other problems at the Chicago INS office.
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Regularly, the American Immigration Lawyers Association looks at 38 INS district offices nationwide, and issues a ''Report Card'' on the processing times for adjudications. In the last Report, Chicago failed to make the grade. If you filed an application for permanent residence in Chicago, it would take between 540 and 720 days to process the application, while the same application would take between 90120 days if filed in the Seattle office. In Chicago, the waiting period between naturalization filing and swearing in, is between 365540 days, and only 3060 days in Pittsburgh. We need to take steps to cut back the processing time.
Also, what seems to be a simple process of applying for a replacement green card can take up to 7 months. We need to determine why Chicago is doing so poorly and what can be done to make it better.
Why is there such an appalling lack of quality service. With the recent 137% increase in fees for processing forms, the level of customer service and prompt processing has not kept pace.
While people wait to become citizens, their lives are on hold. They pay taxes, but they cannot vote on how their tax money should be spent. Some serve in the United States Armed Forces, yet they cannot vote for the Commander in Chief. Many are fearful of traveling outside the United States without a U.S. passport, and thus cannot visit family members or fulfill professional obligations.
401 South State Streetthe interview process
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I went to the INS facility at 401 State Street with a Russian-speaking woman who had been denied a medical waiver, despite having a physician's form stating she suffers from dementia. The dementia was so severe, she could not remember her own telephone number. This interview was her second attempt to get the medical waiver. During the interview, the woman needed to take a nitroglycerin pill to help calm her nerves. After she passed she received not so much as a congratulations.
While there, my staff and I were able to hear questions being asked of other applicants like: ''Do you know what true is?'', ''Do you hate the Constitution?'' and ''Will you pay your taxes?.'' These questions are not among the 100 possible questions given to potential citizens, indicating the arbitrary nature of the interview process.
The atmosphere that I witnessed and that others have reported to me is one of intimidation, instead of helpfulness and courtesy. The attitude seems to be one of keeping people from ''slipping by'' rather than congratulating legal residents who become citizens.
Improper and arbitrary denials of disability waivers due to the lack of training provided to adjudicators is unacceptable and must be rectified. Client experience indicates a lack of consistency among officers, some of whom are assigned from other positions on a temporary basis and are asked to adjudicate cases without proper training or knowledge of the forms and regulations. Adjudicators responsible for medical and disability waivers should have special training.
Seniors and people with disabilities and the immigration process
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Clearly, seniors have a unique set of needs in the immigration process. They do not fit neatly into the INS naturalization process and, in fact have extreme anxiety about the entire process. They have varied transportation, language and health needs that require special attention by immigration officers.
For example, many arrived in this country as older adults, never attended school in their native countries, and may come from a country that does not use the Roman alphabet. They spend from two to four years studying to pass the citizenship test, beginning with learning the alphabet. Their difficulty learning is compounded by the short-term memory loss common to many elderly. When they appear before the INS officers, they are very nervous about being able to remember, plus they are intimidated by authority figures. If they have waited several hours to be interviewed, they may be tired, hungry, and weak.
In considering the needs of the elderly, I ask that INS staff treat each elderly applicant with respect and consideration and provide staff with training sessions on sensitivity to the elderly. And, if possible, resume interviewing at the community sites where the elderly are more comfortable and less intimidated.
The needs of immigrants with disabilities must also be addressed. Announcements to the general public must be made to deaf newspapers and avenues for communicating must be formatted for persons with disabilities, including large print and TTY machines. Interpreters must be available to ensure effective communication at interviews and tests. Wheelchairs, places to sit and comfortable waiting areas should also be provided.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCDetention facilities
Finally, I have grave concerns about the treatment of many asylum seekers, especially women and children.
It is unacceptable, yet common, that asylum seekers are being housed in jails with criminals while they await hearings and the completion of the immigration process. Women are being housed in jails in Stone Park, Racine and in other locations where the INS rents space. If they have children, they are separated. The children are placed in separate facilities while the mothers are housed in jails. A policy ensuring the humane housing of women and their children together must be developed.
In Ullin, 88 Chinese asylum seekers have been sitting in a maximum-security jail since early June awaiting their asylum claims to go before the judge. These immigrants are isolated from their families, housed with criminals despite their lack of a criminal record, subjected to harsh treatment and lack of access to legal resources.
I am concerned that detained asylum seekers, who do not speak English and have no family or friends in the U.S., are not aware that they are able to obtain free legal services. Without legal counsel, many immigrants will not know or be able to exercise their legal rights.
Many legal advocates have advised me of the numerous barriers they face in trying to provide ''Know Your Rights Presentations'' to detainees. These crucial presentations should be implemented immediately at all jails and detention centers in Illinois.
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The U.S. detention policy should be brought into compliance with international principles of refugee protection and basic notions of decency and compassion.
In summary, these are my suggestions for improvements at the INS Chicago office.
Eliminate the ''customer is always wrong'' culture.
Increase the number of permanent staff available to serve customers.
Increase capacity so that all customers visiting will receive service, not just the first 600.
Have information officers available from at least 7:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.
Re-examine Friday office closings and explore the feasibility of expanding hours of operation to include some evenings and weekends.
Shorten the overall processing time for applications.
Revisit guard presence and the x-ray procedure.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Actively work to expand partnerships with government agencies and ethnic community organizations to ensure the wider availability of forms.
Ensure phone lines are open, available and answered in a timely and accurate manner.
Provide mandatory training to staff that includes cultural/diversity, sensitivity and a focus on the delivery of quality customer service.
Increase supervisory presence throughout the office, especially in areas with high customer interactions.
Provide special training for adjudicators dealing with medical and disability waivers.
Make the interview process more welcoming.
Eliminate the use of arbitrary questions.
Maintain compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Asylum seekers and their children should not be separated.
Provide adequate detention facilities for women.
Implement Know Your Rights Presentations at all jails and detention centers.
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I look forward to the opportunity to work with Mr. Perryman and Commissioner Meissner to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to improve operations at the Chicago district office. It is imperative to institute comprehensive, long term, positive changes.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before this Subcommittee.
WRITTEN STATEMENT OF ILLINOIS COALITION FOR IMMIGRANT AND REFUGEE RIGHTS
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) thanks the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims, for appearing in Chicago to hear about the problems that immigrants have experienced with the Chicago District office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
ICIRR is a coalition of more than 90 public and private organizations advocating on behalf of immigrants and refugees throughout Illinois. Over the years, through regular contact with our member organizations and through calls and conversations with thousands of immigrants, we have heard numerous complaints about the treatment that immigrants receive from the local INS office:
Immigrants have had to endure long waits outside the INS office in order to pursue inquiries, get forms, or receive other services. Too often, after their waits, these immigrants left without getting the information they needed, or even worse discovered that their cases had been lost
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Immigrants applying for naturalization too often had to wait years before being called for interviews or for oath ceremonies, and often found their files lost or misplaced. When they received their interviews, INS officers treated many of them at best insensitively, at worst rudely.
In many cases, immigrants faced barriers to receiving service, whether linguistic, cultural, or even physical. Immigrants with disabilities faced special barriers due to lack of interpreters, assistive technology, and other accommodations.
ICIRR has long advocated for changes in district practices, both at the local level in meetings with the district director and staff, and on the national level in meetings with the INS commissioner and other high-ranking officials. We are encouraged by many of the local office's recent efforts, the most apparent of which have greatly reduced the time that immigrants must spend in line to receive service. We are also pleased to see that the district staff is making progress in reducing its backlog of naturalization cases, and is acting more responsively when they receive complaints.
Despite this progress, ICIRR believes that INS still needs to make progress on several fronts. The naturalization backlog, while smaller, is still too large, and too many cases are still in limbo. Immigrants still receive inconsistent treatment during their interviews. And the local office should continue and further refine the measures it has taken to reduce the line for service.
ICIRR is paying particular attention to the needs of immigrants with disabilities. With Access Living, a Chicago-area center for independent living, ICIRR has developed a project to monitor INS handling of disability accommodations. Our project has initiated dialogues with the local office and with national INS officials which we hope will lead to development of a systemic approach for the local office to provide such accommodations.
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Thanks again for the opportunity to present our concerns about the local INS office to this subcommittee. Please feel free to call upon us should you need any further information or assistance.
Maricela Garcia Executive Director
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Ms. Schakowsky, and let me say for the sake of the members here as well as future witnesses that their entire testimony will be made part of the record.
Ms. Biggert, if you will proceed.
STATEMENT OF HON. JUDY BIGGERT, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Ms. BIGGERT. Thank you. Chairman Hyde, Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Jackson Lee, good morning. Thank you for holding the hearing this morning and for allowing me to testify today, and I would request that my full testimony be entered into the record.
Mr. SMITH. Without objection, so ordered.
Ms. BIGGERT. My written testimony outlines a few specific examples of the problems my constituents have encountered in dealing with the Chicago INS office. What they demonstrate is the need for INS to become more efficient and accountable. Let me clarify that I'm not calling into question the dedication of the men and women who work in the Chicago office. What I'm questioning is the office's priorities and how resources are allocated.
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As early as 1991 the Government Accounting Office reported that INS was experiencing severe management problems. Yet 8 years later, the GAO reported again this past January as part of its government performance and accountability series that INS' management challenges persist. This news is particularly troubling when one considers the increased resources Congress and the administration have given the INS over the past few years to correct these problems. Between fiscal years 1993 and 1998 the number of staff at INS increased by more than 60 percent, roughly from 19,000 to nearly 31,000. During the same period, the INS budget increased a hundred fifty-three percent, from 1.5 billion to $3.8 billion.
Many of the INS user fees were substantially increased last year. For example, the fee charged for a naturalization application or N-400 was increased a hundred thirty-seven percent, from $95 to $225, an amount that many feel creates a hardship for immigrant families. At the same time that these fees have been rising and the INS budget has been growing, the growth in the number of new applications has been slowing. Since the fee increase went into effect, applications have grown by 4.3 percent, a relatively slow rate. Yet the time it takes for INS to process these requests is growing by leaps and bounds. It now takes between nine to twelve months for a family-based permanent resident petition to be processed. Incredibly, the processing time for naturalization takes anywhere between 18 and 24 months. In fact, my staff has been told by INS personnel not even to inquire about the status of an application unless the delay has surpassed 18 months.
Mr. Chairman, delays of this length are unacceptable. That's why I am today requesting that GAO revisit the INS and prepare for Congress and for this committee a report on the following: (A) the reasons INS processing times are growing in length despite the increased resources allocated to the INS; (B) the extent to which the recent increases in naturalization and other user fees are helping to reduce backlogs and are consistent with congressional intent; (C) whether the amount of revenue generated by the recent fee increases is enough to ensure the long term solvency of the examinations fee account; and lastly, would restructuring the agency by separating the service and enforcement functions, as has been proposed by the Commission on Immigration Reform, improve managerial and budget efficiencies.
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Let me conclude by offering a few recommendations that might be of benefit to the Chicago district office as well as to INS overall. At times the lack of accurate responses to congressional inquiries has generated additional inquiries and more work for both parties. I urge the Chicago office to put in place some form of quality control audit to ensure that congressional inquiries are answered correctly the first time. My staff has found that simple tasks, such as obtaining general information and needed forms, are made difficult because the phone lines at the Chicago office are either not available or always busy. I encourage the Chicago office to add extra phones or and/or personnel. I also urge the Chicago office to undertake a public information campaign soliciting input from the public on ways to improve service. Finally, I request that upper management officials at the Department of Justice and INS agree to work with the chairman of the House Results Caucus to address the agency's chronic performance problems.
Mr. Chairman, the INS and, to a lesser extent, its Chicago office, suffers from poor management and is losing credibility with the people it is supposed to serve. The INS clearly is an under-performing agency. With an estimated 5 to 8 percent of the foreign population residing here in our state, we clearly owe it to the people of Illinois to undertake reforms that strengthen this important agency.
[The prepared statement of Hon. Judy Biggert follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. JUDY BIGGERT, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, and distinguished members of the Committee, good morning. Thank you for holding this hearing and for allowing me to share my views.
My congressional district encompasses southern Du Page County, as well as parts of Will and Cook counties. The cities and towns located in the 13th District, such as Naperville and Downer's Grove, are some of the fastest growing in the country. Many of those moving into this area are coming from sections of Chicago or other regions of this great nation. However, many others are coming from outside our bordersfrom places such as India, Lithuania and Albania. And they are a welcome addition.
These immigrants are helping to build businesses, create and fill jobs, as well as expand economic growth. At the same time, they are reaffirming what is right about America. More specifically, these newcomers reflect the most American of valuesthe sense of possibility and the opportunity to better oneself.
As with most individuals who are new to an area, the immigrants moving into the 13th District are often in need of assistancebe it with naturalization applications, benefits or general casework. This is where the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and its district offices come into play. This is also the reason I am here today.
I am here to outline my concerns, as well as those of some of the 13th District's residents, regarding the quality of services provided by the Chicago INS district office. Among other things, these concerns include disrespectful treatment of customers, the slow processing of routine forms, long lines, and the difficulty in reaching INS personnel by phone or in person.
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I will give more specific examples of the Chicago District's problems in a minute. However, let me first state my strong disappointment with the overall performance of the INS as an Agency. Besides the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans' Affairs, there should be no more timely, efficient, and consumer friendly federal agency than this one.
America is the land of opportunity, a place where an individual who conducts himself in an ethical way, treats people fairly and with respect, and works to improve his community, can go far. The INS should embody these principles. Disappointingly, the events I am about to describe demonstrate that the INS does not. They also reinforce my belief that serious reform of INS management practices needs to take place.
Catherine Robertson, a native of Canada, has lived in the U.S. since 1952 and is married to an American citizen. In March of 1997, Catherine submitted her first application for citizenship to the Chicago District office. The request was rejected because the INS said her alien number was wrong. My office then had to send the citizenship request to Washington in order to verify the alien number because it was so old. Changes in fingerprint requirements during this time forced Catherine to have hers redone several times. Finally, through the hard work of my staff, Catherine had her citizenship interview last July. Ironically, the fingerprint samples she took before the interview were too old for the INS to accept. As such, she had them redone in July '99. Two-and-a-half years and several fingerprint samples later, Catherine is scheduled this fall to take the oath. I congratulate her on becoming an U.S. citizen and wish her the best.
Nirmala Sharma and her husband, immigrants from India, applied to become U.S. citizens. Mrs. Sharma also had her naturalization process held up by fingerprintinghaving had them rejected several times. What's more, Ms. Sharma, through no fault of her own, twice had to undertake the interview process, despite having papers verifying she had passed her first interview. Now, so much time has passed, she has been asked to have her fingerprints done once again.
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Ms. Kathleen Gibson adopted a daughter in China. She sent an application to the Chicago District office for a Certificate of Citizenship. Ms. Gibson's applications was sent back twice by the INS on the grounds that she did not submit the right amount of money. However, the INS did not take into account the fact that Ms. Gibson had sent her application in before new and higher fees had been instituted. Ms. Gibson resubmitted her application. After having not heard back from the Agency for a year, my staff contacted the INS regarding the application. The INS responsethey had no record of the application. My staff has forwarded the application to the attention of the congressional liaison supervisor. We are hoping for a positive result so that Ms. Gibson and her daughter can move forward with their lives.
These are just a few examples of the poor service provided by the Chicago District office. If my staff and I had not been directly involved in these cases, I would find them hard to believe. These cases demonstrate a need for the Chicago District Office to become more efficient and accountable. Let me clarify that I am not calling into question the dedication of the men and women who work in the Chicago office. What I am questioning are the Office's priorities, strategic planning and the way in which they allocate their resources.
The Chicago office ranks among the nation's top five INS offices in terms personnel and money. While it is difficult to definitively measure the extent to which the ''size'' of an office impacts the quality of services provided, the stories each of us on the panel today hear from our constituents remain the same. They say in unequivocal terms that service has not improved and they leave us with the conclusion that the INS must do better.
The problems associated with the Chicago INS District office are only the tip of the iceberg. It is well know that the entire INS management structure is on shaky ground. As early as 1991, the Government Accounting Officeotherwise known as GAOreported that the Agency was experiencing severe management problems in a variety of areas.
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Among other things, the GAO reported that INS lacked clearly defined priorities, had poor internal communications and outdated procedures and had budget management and resource allocation problems that perpetuated backlogs in processing immigrants' applications for adjustment of status and naturalization. While the INS has undertaken steps over this time period to address some of its problems, the quality and speed of service does not seem to have considerably improved. In fact, the GAO reported this past January, as part of its government Performance and Accountability Series, that INS' management challenges ''persist.''
This news is particularly troubling when one considers the increased resources provided over the last several years to INS by Congress and the Administration to correct these problems.
Let me run some numbers by you. Between fiscal years 1993 and 1998, the number of onboard staff at INS increased by more than 60 percent, from roughly 19,000 to nearly 31,000. During the same period, the INS budget increased 153%from $1.5 billion to $3.8 billion.
As for the money allocated to the INS for services, including issuance of temporary and permanent visas and processing of naturalization applications, funding comes basically from one main account, the Examinations Fee Account. This account is supposed to be self-financed and user fees fund it.
As the Committee is aware, many of the INS ''user'' fees were substantially increased last year. For example, the fee charged for a Naturalization Application or N400 was increased 137 percent, from $95 to $225an amount, by the way, that many feel creates a hardship for immigrant families. At the same time that these fees have been rising and the INS' budget has been growing, the growth in the number of new applications has been slowing. According to the Administration's fiscal year 2000 budget, INS received 5.14 million applications and petitions in FY1998, 5.34 million in FY99 and is estimated to receive 5.36 million in FY2000
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Since the fee increase went in to effect, applications have grown by 4.3 percenta relatively slow rate. Yet the time it takes for INS to process these requests is growing by leaps and bounds. It now takes between nine to twelve months for a family-based permanent residence petition to be processed. Incredibly, the processing time for naturalization takes anywhere between 18 and 24 months! In fact, my staff has been told by INS personnel not to even inquire about the status of an application unless a delay has surpassed 18 months!
Mr. Chairman, can you imagine the agony of waiting 18 months to find out whether you will become a citizen? Does this Agency expect people to put their lives on hold when it can't even meet its own obligations under the law? Delays of this length are unacceptable. That's why I today am requesting that the GAO revisit the INS and prepare for Congress and for this Committee a report. Given:
(1) That a ''user'' fee system is intended to fully fund the visa/naturalization services portion of the INS' budget;
(2) That user fees for all applicants have been raised;
(3) That the number of applications and petitions has grown only slightly over the past few fiscal years;
(4) That Congress has provided substantial increases in funding to the INS, more than doubling their budget.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I am requesting the GAO report on the following:
(A) The reasons INS processing times are growing in length, despite the increased resources allocated to the INS;
(B) The extent to which the recent increases in naturalization and other ''user'' fees are helping to reduce backlogs and are consistent with congressional intent.
(C) Whether the amount of revenue generated by the recent ''fee'' increases are enough to ensure the long-term solvency of the Examinations Fee Account. If not, what changes would GAO recommend?
(D) And, last, would restructuring the Agency by separating the service and enforcement functionsas has been proposed by the Commission on Immigration Reformimprove managerial and budget efficiencies, thereby improving services generally?
Let me conclude by offering a few recommendations that might be of benefit to the Chicago District office, as well as to the INS overall.
1. At times, the lack of accurate and/or informative responses to congressional inquiries has generated additional inquiries and more work for both parties than would have been needed if the original question had been answered correctly. As such, I urge the Chicago office to put in place some form of quality control audit to ensure that congressional inquiries are answered correctly
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2. My staff has found that the simple tasksobtaining general information and needed formsare made difficult because the phone lines at the Chicago office are either not available or always busy. I encourage the Chicago office to add extra phone lines and/or personnel so that both congressional offices and ''customers'' can get through.
3. I also urge the Chicago office to undertake a public comment campaign, soliciting input from the public on ways to improve service.
INS IN WASHINGTON
As I noted earlier, the GAO has identified the INS as an agency that continues to suffer from significant performance challenges. As my colleagues may be aware, the House Republican leadership has formed a working group, called the Results Caucus, that is designed to help federal agencies, such as the INS, address their major management problems.
I am a member of the Results Caucus and know the high quality of this group's work. As such, I recommend that upper-management officials at the Department of Justice and at the INS work with Congressman Pete Sessions, who chairs the Caucus, to address the many performance issues that the other panel members and I have identified.
I also urge INS Commissioner Doris Meissner to hold a roundtable with the Members of the Illinois Congressional delegation, with the intent of coming together on ways to elevate the quality of services provided by the Chicago office.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In closing, Mr. Chairman, the INS, and to a lesser extent its Chicago office, suffers from poor management and is losing credibility with the people it is supposed to serve. As exemplified by the stories I shared with you today, the INS is an under-performing agency, unable to carry out its dual mandate of enforcing our nation's immigration laws or providing services to those who legally immigrate to our country. With an estimated 5 to 8 percent of the foreign-born population residing in our State, we clearly owe it to the people of Illinois to undertake reforms that strengthen this important Agency.
Again, I appreciate the opportunity to testify. I think all of us here today want the same thingto improve the performance and quality of the Chicago INS District office. If all of us work together with honesty and courage, we will find the right solutions to these problems. Today's hearing is a step in the right direction.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Ms. Biggert.
STATEMENT OF HON. DANNY K. DAVIS, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Mr. DAVIS. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Chairman Hyde, subcommittee Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Jackson Lee, first of all I want to thank you for holding this important hearing and welcome the opportunity to participate.
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This morning I shall premise my testimony on two points. First of all, America was, is, and will continue to be a land of immigrants. Some came willingly, some came in chains, some came to flee oppression, and some came for a better way of life. All that we are today, our legal, political, economical, cultural, scientific, and social heritage, is a result of being a land of immigrants. America has also been somewhat schizophrenic about accepting that fact. Anti-immigration laws, administrative procedures, and public sentiment have come and gone in waves and at different times. We seem to be coming down from such a wave legislatively, administratively, and in the public sentiment. In the current period, perhaps because permanent figures in our economic and financial system, such as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, have pointed to the need for additional workers in the current economic conditions. But those waves are morally unacceptable and legally wrong. Our democratic system does not and should not permit such arbitrary behavior and it is of no comfort to those prospective citizens if their rights and dignity were denied because of conscious prejudice, economic expedience, or through insensitivity, lack of organization, or incompetence.
The second pilar of my of my testimony is that we have failed to treat the clients of the Chicago district Immigration and Naturalization Service with due regard for their rights and dignity. We would not be here this morning if we had done so. There is a certain concern which my office has faced since the first day that I took office. Complaints and problems relating to interactions with INS are probably the second most common complaint in the Seventh Congressional District. Our attempts to deal with the flood of complaints of inefficient, rude, arbitrary, inhumane, disorganized, insensitive and incompetent service given to one client at a time have proven hopeless. An examination of our constituent service files on Friday revealed little significant improvement, huge backlogs, and an unacceptable level of service and quality control and an ongoing pattern of insensitivity.
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I could draw any number of examples from our case files, but let me just cite one. I will call her Louise. Louise was denied citizenship based on a minor incident resulting from a traffic stop. She went through a series of humiliating and unbelievably discourteous encounters with the Chicago INS office before and after she came to our office for help. She is now told that her appeal will not be heard for almost one-and-a-half years.
I certainly welcome the recent promises for improved service by Director Perryman. I am certain that he is sincere. I understand the need for more resources for the INS, and I pledge to work to help find those resources, but promises are not enough. The long record of arbitrary application of the U.S. history and government test and the language requirement as documented by the Center of Equal Opportunity and others over the years speak to the need for more national oversight. The recent fiasco over deportation hubs underlines the need for more public involvement. Making public policy without public input is undemocratic, is wrong, and can only lead to disaster.
The fact that it took the threat of reduction of budget to open this channel of communication signals the need for revamping communication between congressional offices and the Chicago district office. Changes in the Chicago office cannot be limited to a list of individual fixes, one at a time. We need to change the way this office operates and change it in a fundamental way. I am pleased to know that we are moving in that direction. I am pleased to know that public interest has generated to the point that this and other hearings are being held.
I certainly, again, want to thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank Chairman Hyde and Ranking Member Jackson Lee for coming to Chicago. We appreciate your being here, and thank you very much.
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Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Davis.
Before recognizing Mr. Hyde and Ms. Jackson Lee for questions that they may have, I have a document to put into the record at the request of Senator Durbin. This is a letter that he received from INS Commissioner Doris Meissner regarding the INS' pledge to improve service in the Chicago office. Without objection, it will be made a part of the record.
The gentleman from Illinois, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is recognized for any questions.
Mr. HYDE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think the testimony of the four witnesses has been illuminating and technical. I don't choose to ask them any questions. I think their testimony has been complete, even with the time limitations, and so I will not ask any questions.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Hyde.
Ms. Jackson Lee.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Thank you very much. I think it's important to again thank my colleagues who are here from this region. I think it's important to emphasize to your constituents and to Chicago what an impact your testimony makes on those of us who do have the first line responsibility that members of this delegation, Mr. Davis' eloquence in presentation that he has made, as he always does, bringing it from the perspective of his congressional district. Ms. Biggert as well, from your congressional district and the GAO study, I think, will be very helpful, particularly since I, too, believe that some of the questions that you have raised need to be answered.
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There are many INS restructuring legislative initiatives and one in particular, H.R. 2680, Immigration Restructuring Accountability Act of 1999, is particularly concerned about those fees and restoring 245i, getting those fees to be used. But the question has to be are those fees effectively used and are the monies used effectively used? From an old phrase that we used maybe in Texas only; don't throw good money after bad. I appreciate the inquiry and will be looking forward to the response. The same thing for my colleagues, Mr. Gutierrez and Ms. Schakowsky. I appreciate it very much. I do have a general question that I would like to ask and part of it is dealing with the theme, I think, that was used by one of the members and that is treating individuals as customers. One of the difficulties of holding field hearings and, again, thank my colleagues, is the time frame so that we were not able to hear from immigration lawyers, from advocates who I know have their own insight into these troubling issues. My question would be with respect to this theory of customer service. Maybe give you a little bit more time to frame that for us, each of you, if you would. Maybe one singular thing that you think would highlight the service part of the INS responsibility. Is it physical plant? What do we do about lines of people out in the cold weather or hot weather? Do we need to have situations where they hold 1 day a month in a stadium-type structure so that everyone is enclosed and so that they can maximize what they're doing? What are the niceties that we could add to that would enhance some of the work of the INS?
Mr. Davis, I caught you because I see you thinking. If you wanted to give one change that might be helpful.
Mr. DAVIS. Well, I think there are two things. One, and they don't always cost an awful lot of money, if we could find a way to reduce the size of this line outside so that people could simply have a comfortable environment in which to seek service. I think that would go a long way toward reducing the image and changing the image of the Chicago office.
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And then the other thing, I served as an alderman in the city of Chicago for three terms, and alderman are asked to do everything in the world, sometimes things that it's impossible to do. But if you approach people a certain way it turns on the way that you respond to them. If you demonstrate a level of sensitivity even though you were not able to get Ms. Jones' cat out of their tree, the person feels a little bit better about the way you responded. And so I think that human relations training for staff persons in terms of how to handle more effectively inquiries and complaints would also go a long way without costing very much additionally.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. I'm going to get every member to answer. I don't want to leave you out. So you would emphasize that monies that we in Congress might allot would be very well used to deal with the customer aspect. Many in Congress feel that we need to spend the money to lock them up and detain them. You're thinking there needs to be an emphasis on the consumer aspect of what we do in this INS service part?
Mr. DAVIS. Oh, unequivocally and without a doubt. I mean you can defuseI mean I've handled so many complaints in my lifetime until I feel like an expert when it comes to complaints, and I tell you that half the time you can defuse negative situations just on the basis of how you interact with people and give them the assurance that you understand what they're trying to do, that you're working on it, that it has a high level of priority and that you're going to do it, and then follow up and get back to them. It would reduce the need for security in some instances. It would reduce the holding action and change the whole environment. So yes, without a doubt.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Would you indulge me, Mr. Chairman, to let the other members answer? Ms. Biggert, if you would, and then Ms. Schakowsky.
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Ms. BIGGERT. Thank you. I think that someone mentioned before that a smile goes a long way. I think that the attitude of the people that are dealing with the customer goes a long way, that feeling that they really care about what they're doing and care about finding a solution to the problem.
The other aspect, I think, is that they give the right answer, and I think I mentioned that in my testimony, that when an inquiry was made the customer gets the right answer so that they don't have to redo something that they've done, such as their fingerprints, or they don't have to come back in. Having the right answer at first really means that there's not going to be such a long line if they don't have to come back and stand in line again because they didn't get the right answer.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Thank you, Congresswoman.
Ms. SCHAKOWSKY. You may have noticed that the line outside of 10 West Jackson this morning is very short. The long lines are virtually gone now. I'm not a management maven, but when I saw the line I said if you're only going to take 600 people, why don't you let them know at 7 o'clock in the morning instead of at 10:30 that they're among the 600? The others at least can leave and go to work so they don't miss another day of work.
So now they're handing out tickets early in the morning for people, but the question is how come only 600 people are being served? Why don't we have the capacity to meet the entire need instead of turning people away? And some of the people were in line for forms. Now there's a kiosk inside and so you can walk in.
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So you'll hear about those changes. Those are important changes, but the culture, if I had to say one thing and this is the hardest thing, the culture of the INS and its attitude toward immigrants seeking service has got to change. If they could change that line in 2 weeks after years of people standing out in the heat and the cold, then they weren't thinking. The mentality wasn't how can we use the best management techniques to best serve our paying customers? Every one of those people in line was a paying customer, and so I think it's the entire mentality of the INS which has to change in a customer is always right instead of a customer is always wrong attitude.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Thank you very much.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Ms. Jackson Lee. I don't have any questions. Maybe I'll just follow up briefly on some of the statements that have been made. Ms. Schakowsky, you just made the point that if this were a private business a citizen who paid a fee wouldn't tolerate such waits. Why should we expect any less from the United States government?
As I said, I don't have any questions, but I do thank you all for your excellent testimony. We appreciate your being here.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Thank you.
Mr. SMITH. We will now move to our second panel, and I'll introduce them as they come forward to take their seats. Mr. Shaye Mandel, District Director, Speaker Dennis J. Hastert, 14th District of Illinois; Ms. Brenda Ortman, Congressional Assistant, Office of U.S. Representative Henry J. Hyde, Sixth District of Illinois; Ms. Thelma Hummel, Caseworker, Office of U.S. Representative Philip M. Crane, Eighth District of Illinois; Mr. Jim Hardy, Staff Assistant, Office of U.S. Representative William O. Lipinski, Third District of Illinois; Ms. Linda Maneck, Caseworker, Office of U.S. Representative John Porter, Tenth District of Illinois; and Ms. Vikki Proctor, United States citizen.
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We will now go to our second panel of witnesses and Ms. Proctor, we'll begin with you and I think we'll just go from left to right, and we look forward to your firsthand experience and your story.
STATEMENT OF VIKKI PROCTOR
Ms. PROCTOR. Good morning, and I'd like to thank Chairman Hyde, Chairman Smith, Congresswoman Jackson Lee, and Congressman Jan Schakowsky for the opportunity to speak this morning about my family's experience, and I'll start with my statement.
Our most recent story with INS actually began 19 months ago when our family needed updated passports to travel abroad. When we attempted to retrieve our Korean-born daughter's naturalization papers from a family safe we realized that the safe had rusted shut. The cost of opening it was projected to be about $1,500, and the condition of her papers couldn't be guaranteed. So we were advised to file for lost documents with the INS Chicago office. We did so and also received a letter of citizenship verification which in turn we were able to take to the Chicago passport office for a passport. We were advised by INS that we might have to wait for one-and-a-half years for citizenship papers, but in the meantime we were able to complete two trips abroad.
It was this past July 19th that our problems began. Our daughter, with $350 worth of shots, tickets, and tuition paid, books purchased, and baggage intact for a study program in Nicaragua, arrived at 5:15 a.m. at O'Hare Airport to be advised that her passport had expired. As we scrambled to find another flight to Nicaragua, we were advised to return to the Chicago passport office. There, we were informed that she needed another letter of verification from the INS office. We were baffled, because we didn't understand that her passport of 1998 would only be valid for 1 year, because she has been a citizen since 1986. We assumed that her passport would be the usual 10-year duration, because we were not informed otherwise. So our next step was the second floor at INS. After a 6-hour wait, exasperated by computer failures and an indifferent staff and many more canceled fights to Nicaragua, our number was called. The INS counselor's attitude was disdainful when we couldn't provide our daughter's alien number. We explained that she was a citizen and that we had already received a prior letter of citizenship verification from the very same Chicago office in February 1998. So the counselor entered our daughter's name into the computer only to find out there was no record of anything, not of citizenship, not of the 1998 verification letter, and not of papers filed to obtain duplicate naturalization papers.
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When we inquired how this could be we were told that thousands of documents are lost and that there are errors. Still thinking that we would get this resolved, we asked if the counselor could get verification of citizenship by contacting another office. We were then told that she would request files from Minneapolis and that if we were lucky, we'd hear back in two to 3 weeks. At this point, September 13th and 8 weeks later, we have still not heard from the INS counselor, who did take a phone number and promised to call.
For our daughter this was the end of her hopes to go to Nicaragua. As ordinary citizens we had no recourse other than to wait or seek congressional help. We couldn't follow up on our situation by phone because citizens and residents don't have this access; only through the efforts of Congressman Schakowsky's aide, Leslie Combs, was it possible to have a conference call with INS. It was then we received the surprising news that this INS worker was able to verify immediately by computer our daughter's citizenship. Had this been the case on July 19th, our daughter would have received her letter of verification and gone to Nicaragua.
Although we disagree with the present practice that foreign-born, adopted children must seek naturalization, we have adhered to the system. We remain frustrated that we were not treated respectfully nor did we receive competent and accurate help. Why didn't the INS office find accurate data on July 19th? Why weren't we called about the status of the Minneapolis report? Why does it take so long to receive duplicate papers?
In the conference call we learned that our 19-month wait will not end soon because the INS office must first tackle the paperwork prior to October, 1997. Our case isn't in that batch. Why did our daughter receive a temporary passport when INS has proof of her citizenship? Why can't the Chicago office contact other INS offices immediately if records of Chicago area residents are kept in other cities? Why is it that only a Congressman can communicate with INS by telephone while residents and citizens must get in line before dawn to pursue their inquiries?
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I'm grateful for this opportunity to testify here today and trust that this hearing will promote changes in the Chicago INS office that will better serve the people of this area.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Ms. Procter.
STATEMENT OF LINDA MANECK, CASEWORKER, OFFICE OF U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN PORTER, 10TH DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
Ms. MANECK. Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I have been a District Office caseworker for Congressman John Porter, specializing in the area of immigration, for over 17 years. Ask any congressional caseworker and they will say this is not the most popular area of responsibility. However, the rewards with working with immigrants and seeing their happiness when they are reunited with a loved one or pride in becoming a U.S. citizen makes it a invaluable experience.
The INS and congressional offices need to work together. We represent the United States government and should give a good impression. The problems with the INS were not created overnight and will not be solved overnight. As problems occur within an agency constituents come to their Congressmen to have that problem solved or have the agency evaluate it. Our congressional casework also tends to increase. In the past few years our casework in the area of immigration and naturalization has at least tripled. My view is that the INS as an agency did not adequately anticipate nor prepare itself for the deluge of applications received for processing under the new immigration laws and then how to accommodate the timely processing of them without creating the enormous backlogs we now see.
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Through hearings such as this and new procedures put in place the Chicago INS, it is our hope these problems can be remedied. Congressman Porter's constituents tell us they dread having to visit the local Chicago INS because of the long lines, the possibility that they may not be seen by anyone and the likelihood of not having their questions answered or problems solved. Through the recent press and the attention this matter has been given we have already seen improvement, but the Chicago INS has a long way to go to overcome its reputation. We are embarrassed and it is difficult for us to defend the agency when congressional offices encounter the same problems as our constituents.
Until recently congressional offices had problems calling anyone at the Chicago INS to get help with an emergency problem. So on occasion we would provide a constituent who had a specific problem with a letter of introduction from the Congressman explaining why they were visiting the INS and requesting assistance. Our constituents reported back that INS officers had tossed the letter aside or asked how the individual would even know a Congressman. Congressional offices work with an agency and for the constituency. But when there is little respect for congressional letter or inquiry, I would say it's difficult to support the agency. We have been very patient with the INS procedures and it's my hope that an end to disregarded congressional inquiries or untimely and incorrect responses is near. Given the new procedures Mr. Perryman has put in place at the Chicago INS we are very hopeful. My question is I would like to know why these measures weren't taken earlier?
My personal concern is between INS headquarters and local INS prioritizing of applications. Given the backlog of N-400 applications many others are put on the back burner. Most U.S. citizens not familiar with immigration processing don't understand until they go for an application for an immigration benefit. Personally, I feel those U.S. citizens should have some priority in applying for the benefits. I refer specifically to citizen parents who have to apply for proof of citizenship of their foreign adopted children and also citizens applying for the permanent resident status of their spouses, children or parents.
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It's my understanding that the Chicago INS has been instructed by INS headquarters to overcome the backlog of processing N-400 applications by making them a priority. That's understandable. It is a big problem. However, as an example of consideration of benefits for U.S. citizens, what happens to the applications they file for proof of citizenship for their foreign adopted child? These applications are now taking over 2 years to complete. Mrs. Proctor gave an example of her child having difficulty with proof of citizenship. Should U.S. citizens who adopt a foreign child have a more immediate benefit of citizenship for their children just like U.S. citizen parents who bear children in the U.S? With the directive of processing the backlog of citizenship applications, would be citizens filing for naturalization have more priority than U.S. citizens applying for immigration benefits. That's not to take away from our immigrants becoming citizens and encouraging them that. It's just that citizens that are already here applying for benefits should have consideration.
Finally, there really is no such thing as immigration in a nutshell. Providing correct information on immigration procedures and cases has always been a problem. This is often why people complain about receiving incorrect information from INS offices. But it's also why the INS and congressional offices need to continue to work together. Hopefully with hearings such as this to address the concerns with the INS we will see improvement in our efforts to provide information and courteous and prompt service to the public.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Ms. Maneck.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Hardy.
STATEMENT OF JAMES HARDY, STAFF ASSISTANT, OFFICE OF U.S. REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAM O. LIPINSKI, 3RD DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
Mr. HARDY. Good morning, Chairman Hyde, Chairman Smith, and distinguished members of the subcommittee. I am honored to submit the following testimony for such an important hearing and on behalf of Congressman William Lipinski, I wish to thank you for calling this hearing to address the concerns of our office as well as that of the general public with regard to the Immigration and Naturalization Service District Office here in Chicago.
I wish to present to you today a personal statement based on my direct interactions with the Chicago District Office and the immigrant residents within our district while working as an aide to Congressman William O. Lipinski, the Third District of Illinois. I'd also like to thank Mr. George Fishman for working out the logistics of this hearing and foremost allowing staff Members of Congressmen and Senators to give our unique perspective on this issue. Because I think we can possibly shed the most light due to the fact that we deal with both sides of the struggle; the immigrant residents and INS staffers on a daily basis.
Mr. SMITH. George doesn't get thanked often enough. So he appreciates that.
Mr. HARDY. Please allow me to briefly present some background on our district, the Third Congressional District, as it relates to this issue. Our district is home to a large, diverse and active immigrant population composed mainly of persons of Eastern European descent as well as a growing population of persons of Middle Eastern descent; primarily Jordanian and Palestinian.
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From the time that Congressman Lipinski took office in 1982, his office has maintained a steady caseload of inquires from district residents regarding the uniquely complex in the immigration process. This would be expected, given the demographics of the Third District. Over the past 3 years, however, the immigration caseload at our office has dramatically increased. At Porter's office we have an increase of three fold. We have that at least I would say due to the sheer number of the cases involved and also very importantly the emotional nature of these cases as you're dealing directly with people's lives, their future, their identities and their livelihood. It's very emotionally straining. This increase in our immigration caseload directly correlates to an increase in applications submitted to the INS. This increase has, as we know, led to a huge application backlog and incredibly long processing times.
For the INS office here in Chicago, specifically, a vicious circle has emerged as they begin to cope with the dramatic rise and increase from frustrated applicants received at the window at 10 West Jackson as well as the dramatic rise and increase from our congressional offices. Processing these inquiries has, in turn, forced the Chicago district office to shift valuable staff away from what should be a top priority, that is, adjudicating pending applications, thereby reducing the backlog of applications, which would, of course in turn, decrease the processing times.
This chain of events had helped to create the tense situations that is witnessed each and every morning both outside and within the halls of the Chicago district office as an extremely frustrated public attempts to gain information and services from an extremely and increasingly frustrated INS staff. This situation has obviously taken a heavy toll on all persons involved, especially those INS employees who deal directly with the publicnamely, the security guards and the public information officers. Documented unprofessional and inefficient work habits of some of these individuals and, only some are the reason why this hearing is taking place today.
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While the specific and unfortunate situation of rude behavior and long lines has been present for some time, it should be noted that since this problem has emerged publically by members of the media that INS District Director here in Chicago, Brian Perryman, has both condemned its occurrence and taken concrete steps to eliminate such behavior in the future. For now it appears that these steps, however belated, have seemed to be working. It has been reported that a friendly environment has existed in the past few weeks for persons requesting services from the Chicago District Office and we welcome that of course. However, the immigrants that seek assistance from our office, in particular, remind us on a daily basis that there is a deeper problem beyond the rude behavior and long lines. While we certainly receive complaints from immigrants regarding this poor treatment, their primary concern and distress continues to be the fact that they fail to receive adequate answers when they inquire in person at the Chicago District Office regarding the status of their application or petitions. They seem to frequently be given responses and we hear these all the time, you just have to wait, your file is not here and actually recently since all of the media hoopla surrounding Congressman Schakowsky's incident at 10 West Jackson, we've been hearing responses coming that we cannot help you, please go see your Congressman.
The main fear of these applicants that come into our office is that their paperwork is lost and therefore that their immigration status itself is in jeopardy. This obviously is extremely distressful to them. When we suggested their paperwork is not lost, explained the backlog situation at INS and offered to help their application get back on track by submitting a formal congressional inquiry, they are relieved and thankful, of course, due to the fact that they have been given a straight answer as well as hope for a solution to their problem, which is, of course, what they have not been successfully receiving at the INS office here in Chicago.
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In closing, the unfortunate existence of long lines and rude behavior that triggered the recent flood of negative publicity directed at the Chicago District Office and which in turn has forced these hearings, I think can be primarily seen as symptoms of greater structural problems facing INS offices throughout the country. Namely, the staggeringly long processing times for most INS benefits and especially here in Chicago as we've seen the inability of INS staff to give concrete answers to the subsequent status increase that arose from these processing times. A concerted effort to directly address these problems and the need for strategic thinking by all parties involved in order to avoid future processing backlogs will hopefully be the result of these hearings today. We should welcome Director Perryman's recently initiated reform plans and work closely with the director and his staff assisting them at this critical time and in the future as well.
I appreciate your time and attention and the opportunity to share these views with you. Thank you very much.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Hardy.
STATEMENT OF THELMA HUMMEL, CASEWORKER, OFFICE OF U.S. REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIP M. CRANE, 8TH DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
Ms. HUMMEL. Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. I am Thelma Hummel, a caseworker for Congressman Phil Crane. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you and share with you some of the concerns our office has with the Chicago Immigration and Naturalization Service. It is understood that the Chicago INS Office has been trying to improve its customer service. However, our constituents have not yet benefitted from these improvements.
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There are three issues I would like to discuss with you today: the poor customer service our staff and constituents have received by the employees at the INS office here in Chicago, the length of time it has taking for cases, although we're told that these cases are all done in chronological order, it's wrong, and the threats our constituents have received from INS employees.
There have been too many incidents or too many times in too many different incidents in which constituents have taken time off from work, traveled to the INS office, waited and waited and been treated horribly. I have been working for Mr. Crane for 11-and-a-half years. I have yet to meet a constituent who hasn't come to this country for a better way of life. INS has no reason to treat them with disrespect. Constituents from our district have been told by Chicago INS employees what to bring for a citizenship interview only to find out once they go for the interview more information is needed. As instructed by the INS employee, the additional documents have been then submitted by registered mail. After three to 5 months our office has made an inquiry on these cases and been informed in writing by the INS that the constituent's citizenship was denied for a lack of response. This is unconscionable.
Additionally, on many occasions, constituents have arrived for their scheduled citizenship interview at the Chicago INS office and then been told the Chicago INS office has no file on them or the file is lost or the file is incomplete. Some of our constituents have even received a notice to appear after they've become citizens. Somebody else is waiting in the wings for that opportunity.
Also, folks who have filed 1 day or 1 week early and then wait for two or more years to get their citizenship are told they are denied because they were early and now they must pay another fee. I can't tell you how many times someone has come to our office asking for assistance because they have received their notice for a citizenship interview days after the scheduled interview date. These constituents then have to wait months for a new interview. In addition, constituents who have applied for citizenship and have moved do not have the correct address in their file all after they have filed the appropriate notice for their address change and then they come to us and we change it again. It might never have been done.
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I will enclose with my testimony a recent letter which our office received from the Chicago INS office. You will see that the letter is responding to an inquiry by Congressman Crane, but the name is not correct. I am not aware of anyone on our staff who has requested the status of Congressman Crane's citizenship. The Congressman was quite devastated to find out his citizenship had been denied. This is a typical example of the responses our office frequently receives. Too often we receive responses from the INS office with errors such as wrong numbers, incorrect names, or it was sent to the wrong address and no attempt was made to correct the error. I understand that mistakes can be made, but it is the frequency of such mistakes that's very alarming.
Also alarming is the attitude of the INS staff both in Chicago and in Washington, D.C. When concerns have been brought to the attention of INS management, few improvements have been seen. I will, however, tell you, since this hearing was announced our office and constituents have been receiving excellent service, but what about all the inquiries that have been made over a year ago and we do not have answers.
The next area of concern our office has with the INS office is the length of time we have to wait for responses. Our constituents have had their fingerprints or work authorization expire before they are called for an interview. Then, they have to pay another $100 to get a new work authorization. Then, they play the waiting game again. I have written a letter to Doris Meissner under Congressman Crane's name asking if we can't have the employment authorizations for 2 years rather than one. These people are not millionaires; a $100 is a lot of money for them. Upon our office calling and making inquiries to Lincoln, Nebraska or the Southern Service Center about green cards we are told the reason for delay is Chicago didn't send the complete form that they need to put these green cards into production. I think something could be done about that. Families apply for citizenship at the same time and some people get it and some people wait a year or 2 years more.
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Additionally, U.S. citizens are given less consideration than legal immigrants in the backlog of the N-600's, the 643, and the N-565. I know that's been covered. We all seem to have the same problems. Many of these applications have been waiting over 3 years to be processed. We also are including a letter from a dad who had the same problem and now he's having trouble getting his daughter into kindergarten.
You want me to quit?
Mr. SMITH. Are you arriving at your conclusion?
Ms. HUMMEL. I've seen that gavel. Okay. Well, the last thing I just wanted to talk about are the threats and this one letter we have tells about the threat that the INS officer said maybe if you go whining to your representative we will get around to your daughter's application. That's uncalled for.
And the last thing I'd like to say is I would really like to drive home at night, my hour drive, and not feel like crying because I haven't made one bit of difference in these people's lives, and this is the only thing I do all day long, and thank you.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you very much, Ms. Hummel, for your testimony.
STATEMENT OF BRENDA ORTMAN, CONGRESSIONAL ASSISTANT, OFFICE OF U.S. REPRESENTATIVE HENRY J. HYDE, 6TH DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
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Ms. ORTMAN. Thank you. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for this forum to share my experiences as a congressional district immigration caseworker.
My name is Brenda Ortman. I work for Congressman Henry Hyde. I enjoy the opportunity to work with constituents in the Illinois Congressional Sixth District. Helping them navigate the immigration process is challenging. Since 1997 the levels of immigration casework has exploded in our office. We open an average, this year, 100 new cases each month. Citizens and legal permanent residences eligible for benefits from INS are entitled to a fair and reasonable process. Current INS problems, backlogs, poor customer service, lack of accountability, inability to manage an organization overwhelmed by its own inability to cope with changes and increased demand.
Backlogs exist in almost every area of applications. The service pledges to eliminate delays in naturalization, but to the detriment of all other applications. The Chicago District Office has informed us applications for naturalization are their priority; a directive from INS headquarters. This means for applications for derivative citizenship, citizenship for adopted children and replacement certificates of naturalization are not being processed. From the initial application for any INS benefit, applications are faced obstacles. All INS forms need updating, revision, review and corrections. Many forms have not be revised since 1991. The application for naturalization, commonly known as the N-400, now requires seven attachments. There are even attachments created to correct mistakes in previous attachments and related forms. This is neither fair nor reasonable.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Outdated record-keeping and poor file management delays processing of applications. One constituent who filed his application for naturalization in February 1994 contacted our office last year. After trying to resolve his case with the Chicago district office for 4 years, he asked for help. Multiple inquiries have revealed the file was lost. It was commingled with another file. They told us in November 1998 they would resolve it in 2 weeks. They told us in January 1999 it would take 2 weeks to straighten it out. We referred the case to the first problem-solving day, March, 1999. Progress. A new interview scheduled, new fingerprint appointment and approval. Last week, INS informs us the file has been placed in file review. Bad news immediately follows good. Our constituent has waited for more than 5 years to learn that they will probably deny his citizenship.
Applications should be reviewed for eligibility when submitted to the INS. This would eliminate unnecessary delays for both applicants and INS. Why should fingerprints be submitted, interviews scheduled only to slow the processing of qualified applications? Why should someone wait years to be told they were ineligible at the date of the filing. INS must improve its ability to provide effective, courteous service to everyone. The Chicago district office is beginning steps in this direction after 2 years of constant requests from immigration caseworkers. Illinois Congressional Offices are hopeful the local office will continue to try and improve services.
I receive calls from desperate constituents. Recently we were asked to help with an adjustment of status application filed in 1995. The constituent was interviewed in 1996, but never received a decision. Each year he renewed his work authorization card and waited. His job took him to Canada. He was not allowed to return to the United States. His wife, with their attorney, went to the INS, was told a decision was never reached because they never submitted their marriage certificate. She showed the officer her 1996 receipt for submitting the certificate. The officer found the certificate in the file. She was instructed to return the next day. The officer didn't have time to complete the form. She and her attorney returned the following 3 days and each time were told the form was not ready. On the fourth day she finally received the notice. The four blanks on the form were handwritten. The names were misspelled and the A number was incorrect.
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INS must have contingency plans. Last year the Texas Card Production Facility was closed. Over the years this facility efficiently produced alien registration cards. New equipment was needed to provide a better card, however, this equipment was not functioning before the working system was shut down. This created long waits for new, replacement and renewal alien registration cards. Effective service requires accurate, attainable information. A February, FE99, response to a congressional inquiry informed us a constituent citizenship was granted and he would be scheduled for the next available oath ceremony. We did a follow up inquiry and received a response in August of this year. This inquiry informed us his application was denied July, 1999. I'm still waiting for clarification.
The anger and frustration levels directly relate to the backlogs in processing. Backlogs created the INS's inability to manage resources effectively. One constituent wrote recently, ''It appears that they do not care. I have followed the rules, completed the steps and expectations, shown patience and endurance, and yet there is still no light at the end of the tunnel. I am now at a total loss. There is absolutely no morality, responsibility or liability toward their treatment of individuals.''
Mr. Chairman, I thank you and the committee for this opportunity. INS backlogs directly affect people's lives. They cannot plan for their future, families are separated, jobs lost, benefits denied. Agencies, federal, state and private, require proof of citizenship or legal permanent residency to qualify for benefits. Some benefits denied include passports, scholarships, student loans, Social Security benefits, home ownership, military service, and health benefits. Not only are benefits denied, but the added expenses of attorneys, lost time on the job to stand in line, repeat interviews and renewals of expiring documents only adds to the frustration with INS. Why should anyone have to put their lives on hold because a government agency cannot manage the responsibility to act?
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[The prepared statement of Ms. Ortman follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF BRENDA ORTMAN, CONGRESSIONAL ASSISTANT, OFFICE OF U.S. REPRESENTATIVE HENRY J. HYDE, 6TH DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims of the House Judiciary Committee:
Thank you for this forum to share my experiences as a Congressional District Immigration Caseworker. My name is Brenda Ortman. I work for Congressman Henry Hyde in Addison, Illinois. Since 1997 immigration casework exploded to 576 active cases, 244 of those are applications for naturalization. I enjoy the opportunity to work with the constituents in the Illinois Congressional Sixth District. Helping them navigate the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) process is challenging.
Citizens and legal permanent residents, eligible for benefits from INS are entitled to a fair and reasonable process. Current INS problems; backlogs, poor customer service, lack of accountability, inability to manage an organization overwhelmed by its own inability to cope with changes and increased demands. These are the common problems of the INS system.
Backlogs exist in almost every area of applications. The service pledges to eliminate delays in naturalization, but to the detriment of all other applications. The Chicago District office has informed us applications for naturalization are the priority, a directive from INS headquarters. This means applications for derivative citizenship, citizenship for adopted children, and replacement certificates of naturalization are not being processed. The processing times for many of theses applications are now more than two years. That is if processing were to resume today.
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No backlogs exist at the Chicago Asylum Office. It is well organized and efficient, consistently keeping within the time limits for processing applications. I have never received a complaint about this division of INS.
From the initial application for any INS benefit, applicants are faced with obstacles. All INS forms need updating, revision, review and corrections. Many forms have not been revised since 1991. The application for naturalization, (Form N-400) contains errors and outdated information. The application now requires seven attachments. There are even attachments created to correct mistakes in previous attachments and related forms. (Addendum 1) This is neither fair nor reasonable.
INS has not provided an accessible and reliable method for an applicant to notify them of a change of address. People move. They notify INS by mail or by going personally to their District office. They do not acknowledge their letters and often even a Congressional request to update an address does not get added to a file. They never receive notices and they miss appointments. This adds to the backlog.
Outdated record keeping and poor file management delay processing of applications. One constituent who filed his application for naturalization, February 1994, contacted our office last year. After trying to resolve his case with the Chicago District office for four years, contacting them in person and by mail, he asked for assistance. Multiple inquiries have revealed the file was lost. It was co-mingled with another file. They told us in November 1998 they would resolve it in 2-weeks, they told us in January 1999, it would take 2-weeks to straighten out. We referred this case to the first problem solving day March 1999. Progress; a new interview scheduled, new fingerprint appointment and approval. Last week the INS informs us the file has been placed in final review. Bad news immediately follows this good news. Our constituent has waited more than five years to learn they will probably deny his citizenship.
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Applications should be reviewed for eligibility when submitted to the INS. This would eliminate unnecessary delays for both applicant and INS. Why should fingerprints be submitted and interviews scheduled only to slow the processing of qualified applications? Why should someone wait years to be told they are ineligible.
INS must improve its ability to provide effective, courteous service to everyone. The Chicago District office is beginning steps in this direction, after two-years of constant requests from immigration caseworkers. Illinois Congressional offices are hopeful the local office will continue to try to improve service.
I receive calls from desperate constituents. Recently, we were asked to assist with an adjustment of status application filed in 1995. The constituent was interviewed in 1996, but never received a decision. Each year he renewed his work authorization card, and waited. His job took him to Canada, he was not allowed to return to the U.S. His wife, with their attorney, went to INS, was told a decision was never reached because they never submitted their marriage certificate. She showed the officer her 1996 receipt for submitting the certificate. The officer found the certificate in the file. She was instructed to return the next day, the officer didn't have time to complete the notice. She and her attorney returned, only to be told the notice was not ready. On the fourth day she finally received the notice. The four blanks on the form were hand written. The names were misspelled and the A-number was incorrect.
INS must have contingency plans. Last year the Texas card production facility was closed. Over the years this facility efficiently produced alien registration cards. New equipment was needed to provide a better card. However, this equipment was not functioning before the working system was shut down. This created long waits for new, replacement and renewal alien registration cards.
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Effective service requires accurate, obtainable information. A February 1999 response to a congressional inquiry informed us a constituent's citizenship was granted they would schedule him for the next available naturalization ceremony. The August 30, 1999, response to our next inquiry informed us they denied his application July 9, 1999. I am waiting for a clarification from INS.
The anger and frustration levels directly relate to the backlogs in processing. Backlogs created by the INS's inability to manage resources effectively. One constituent wrote recently, ''It appears that they do not care. I have followed the rules, completed the steps and expectations, shown patience and endurance, and yet, still no light at the end of the tunnel. . . . I am now at a total loss! There is absolutely no morality, responsibility or liability toward their treatment of individuals''
Mr. Chairman, thank you and the committee for this opportunity. INS backlogs directly affect peoples lives. They cannot plan for their future, families are separated, jobs lost, benefits denied. Agencies, federal, state and private, require proof of citizenship or legal permanent residency to qualify for benefits. Some benefits denied include passports, scholarships, social security benefits, student loans, home ownership, military service and health benefits. Not only are benefits denied but the added expense of attorneys and lost time on the job to stand in lines, repeat interviews and renewals of expiring documants only adds to the frustration with INS. Why should anyone have to put their lives on hold because a government agency cannot manage their responsibility to act?
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Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Ms. Ortman.
STATEMENT OF SHAYE MANDLE, DISTRICT DIRECTOR, DENNIS J. HASTERT, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Mr. MANDLE. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Chairman Hyde, Ranking Member Jackson Lee. It's an honor and a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in front of you today.
My name is Shaye Mandle and I'm the District Director for House Speaker Denny Hastert. Denny asked me to come here today on his behalf to stress his concern with what is going on in Chicago and his concern with the growing number of INS problems that we see in our office and on his behalf, I'd like to read into the record today his statement prepared for this committee hearing.
''I would like to thank the chairman for scheduling today's hearing on the practices of the Chicago office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. This office has been the topic of great discussion among all of the members of the Illinois Congressional delegation, both Republicans and Democrats. We can all agree that changes must be made here in Chicago.
Page 80 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC ''The United States has always been the land of opportunity and a symbol of freedom that people from all over the world recognize. Most of our ancestors were not born on this soil, but chose to come to America to seek a better life for their families. For generations now we have found that better life in this country.
''The opportunities so evident over two centuries ago when this nation was founded still exist today. And just as so many before have come here, the United States continues to have a great number of immigrants entering for a better life. When those immigrants seek to enter this country and, eventually, to become U.S. citizens, they must work through the U.S. INS.
''Unfortunately, the first experience many immigrants have in this country, at least here in Chicago, is not one of joy and hope, but rather, one of frustration and fear. It is unfortunate that today, rather than celebrating the manner in which our new Americans arrive, we are addressing the many problems and deficiencies resulting from the practices of the INS here in Chicago.
''It is commonplace here to see hundreds of people lined up around the street corner waiting to talk with an immigration officer. This is an opportunity that for many ends with hours of waiting and with the instruction to come back tomorrow. When the opportunity to speak to an immigration officer finally does arrive, many are greeted rudely and rushed out, leaving many questions unanswered and fearing that whatever steps they taken have been wrong. It is only after much frustration and fear that these individuals, feeling helpless, contact the office of the Member of Congress representing their area.
''In the 14th Congressional District, which includes all of Kane, DeKalb, Kendall and Lee Counties, and portions of DuPage and LaSalle Counties, 68 percent of the casework we now receive is INS-related. The average amount of time it takes to close an immigration case in my office is between one and 2 years. This is in addition to the average processing time of an application, which is also between one and 2 years. When my office submits an inquiry to the Chicago INS office, the response typically takes 90 to a hundred and twenty days. My office goes to great lengths to provide the INS with the most complete information possible and even supplies support letters outlining the candidates particular situation. Unfortunately, even though INS has asked Congressional Offices to do this, many of the letters sent by my office go unread. On one occasion, a member of my staff was told by the Chicago INS officer she was working with, 'You don't honestly think that we read all of your letters, do you?'
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''This backlog and the inconsistent information that immigrants receive serves to foster the paranoia that something is wrong with their application. Despite the inability of the Chicago INS office to service the applications it receives, it continues to accept applications and the fees for applications and the fees for applications even though they're not currently being processed. This is simply unacceptable.
''We must expect more from our government and our government must do its job better. While the INS office in Chicago is making efforts to improve its service to the public and to congressional offices, to which so many people seek out for help, there is much work to be done here. Every person who seeks service here, whether they be a third generation American or someone who 1 day hopes to become a U.S. citizen, deserves to have their questions answered fairly and accurately and within a reasonable amount of time. The process of immigrating to this country should again be an occasion filled with hopes and dreams, not a process of fear and frustration.
''Thank you, Mr. Chairman.''
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Mandle.
Let me begin my questions with directing the first one to Ms. Proctor.
Ms. Proctor, there's a book by Charles Dickens called A Tale of Two Cities and as I recall, the opening line is something like, ''They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.'' It seems to me you've experienced the worst of times with the INS and you have raised a lot of good, legitimate questions that I think will be appropriately directed or I will direct toward Mr. Perryman, who will be testifying after you all finish.
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I think the real question as far as your experience goes is to find out were you to again initiate the contact that you made with the INS, what would happen now? Hopefully, we will hear that you would not go through that worst of times again. Your testimony was riveting. It was a clear example of what should not happen. And as I say, I hope INS has made improvements since your experience.
What I'd like to do is to address a single question to the five representatives from the five District Offices who are here and ask you to respond briefly, if you would. And the question is this; well, two questions really. What is the most common complaint you have? In other words, what is the most common example of the lack of responsiveness on the part of the INS? And the second question is what, if any, improvements have you seen in your dealings with the INS? So first the complaint, the second the improvement, if you've seen them.
Ms. MANECK. The most common complaint would be the delay in service when they've paid for an application to be processed.
Mr. SMITH. Speak a little bit more loudly, if you would.
Ms. MANECK. Timeliness, the backlog problem that's been created. They come to our office asking why they have not heard anything for 2 years after submitting an application. And then we can go on with a myriad of things after that, of problems that happen once they are contacted; the fingerprints are no longer up to date.
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In answer to your second question, our Congressional Offices, I believe, are being served. We are getting responses within thirty days. There is a problem, of course, with your old replies that we have to still work on, but I believe that an effort to work with the congressional offices has already started.
Mr. SMITH. Okay. Thank you, Ms. Maneck.
Mr. HARDY. Once again, I would like to respond to the first question. To go back to my testimony, really the main concern that individuals have when they come to our office is the fact that they just are given inadequate answers when they do approach INS staffers in person downtown, here at the district office around the corner, and that's really what I think is the most important issue that we're dealing with here. Really above and beyond the rude behavior, I think a lot of the immigrants that come to Chicago are very tough people. Obviously, they're very strong men and women and I think that they could deal with a little bit of rude behavior here and there, if after standing in line and being confronted with the rude behavior, if they could get an answer. The problem is even after standing in line there's no answer.
Mr. SMITH. You're not saying rude behavior is an acceptable standard, are you, though?
Mr. HARDY. I'm sorry?
Page 84 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. You're not saying rude behavior is an acceptable standard, are you?
Mr. HARDY. No, of course it's not acceptable. Of course it's not acceptable, but I think that the main issue is that they just simply cannot get an answer.
In terms of improvements, I would like to also agree that the Congressional Response Unit has improved dramatically; not to the point of 30-day responses yet, at least not at our office, but they have improved dramatically because they were atrocious, up to 6 months and beyond, up to a year ago. Again, I understand the reasons for this in that they've been hit with huge, huge numbers of increase from congressional offices. In fact, they've released numbers to us in the form of INS newsletters and I remember 1 month where Congressman Gutierrez' office had submitted 240-some inquiries for that 1 month and then that's only one congressional office and you're talking about a district office that covers all of Illinois and I believe some of Wisconsin and northwest Indiana. But those improvements on the Congressional Response Unit are coming and they're welcome.
Mr. SMITH. Okay. Thank you, Mr. Hardy.
Ms. HUMMEL. Well, I think, too, the timeliness is one of the worst things, but I also think that we as congressional offices have kind of lost some of our credibility because we are giving the constituents we get and often times those answers are wrong and I think that that's really a big problem.
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We are, however, on the second part of it, we are getting some responses and we're getting them in good time. But like I say, I have some from last August that have never been answered. And I am getting a list of those to immigration because I think people deserve to know.
Mr. SMITH. Okay. Thank you, Ms. Hummel.
Ms. ORTMAN. Slow and inaccurate responses we are receiving on congressional inquiries have always been a problem. I had seen some light, but with the recent two that I mentioned in my testimony that have completely conflicting information. One day it's approved, 1 day it's denied. We have lack of trust in the responses that we're getting at this time.
Things that I've seen as an improvement. The change in procedures in fingerprints. You do not submit fingerprints with an application anymore. You submit it just prior to your interview. So we're not having fingerprints expiring as often and then the process not being completed.
Mr. SMITH. Okay. Thank you, Ms. Ortman.
Page 86 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MANDLE. Mr. Chairman, again, basically in agreeing with everyone else has said, it's the timeliness and inaccuracy. The people that come to our office, it seems like everybody has a story about knowing someone who's actually negotiated the system in a positive manner who applied after them, but has been approved or had some successes, even though it's supposed to be done chronologically. That's our biggest complaint that we hear from constituents.
As far as improvements, the Congressional Response Unit that everyone has mentioned, the response to us has improved, without a doubt, but I also want to provide a little bit of prospective for the committee. Prior to the last couple of months, I would say, when all of the Members of Congress really got irritated and made this an issue, unlike any other Federal agency there was not a congressional liaison that our offices could get on the telephone and ask a question to. It was write it down, fax it in. You get a response from that fax in 60 to 90 days. Oftentimes that response said, ''You didn't have the right number.'' Or something. Literally, the workers in our office, the caseworkers that do this, would wait 3 months before they could get someone on the telephone to ask a question. So the improvements, drastic. But when you start at the bottom it can only get better. And that would be our impression of this.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Mandle. Thank you all for your answers to my questions.
The chairman of the Judiciary Committee is recognized for his comments.
Mr. HYDE. Well, I have no questions other than to congratulate knowledgeable people who obviously have their heart and soul in their work, for which we're all grateful. You've made a distinct contribution, all of you, and I just want to point out this inquiry is not a partisan inquiry. This isn't Republicans versus Democrats or Democrats versus Republicans. This is bipartisan. No matter what the political party is, we all are agreed and held together by a need for constituent service and that's the problem and it's our job to look at these things and put sunlight on them to see if we can't make them better. I congratulate all of you for your very dedicated service. You are, in the fullest sense of the word, great public servants. Thank you.
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Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Hyde.
Thank you, Ms. Jackson Lee, for yielding, and you're recognized for questions.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and who can disagree with Chairman Hyde on that? Let me thank all of you all for being the engine of our respective congressional offices and serving us very well and giving us enormous insight into the day to day works of what you deal with. Let me also thank George. I don't mind thanking George, as well, for helping to organize this and I want to acknowledge, as well, Noland Rappaport and Leon Buck, who I will be asking to call you after this hearing because I'm going to make some comments, but I do want to apprize you that they'll be calling you again about what you believe are the most frequent complaints. The chairman, Chairman Smith, has asked some questions, but I'd like to probe you a little bit on the telephone and then we will specifically ask you about the time delay for applications such as Form N-40, the naturalization application, adjustment of status applications, Form I-85, visa petition applications Form I-130 and employment authorization.
I heard some of you mention some of the points that I'd like to emphasize in my comments. First of all, immigrants do come here for a better way of life and as our colleagues have indicated, this is a land of immigrants. I always start the hearings by saying that we are a nation of laws and we are a nation of immigrants. And these two should be intertwined and I think the United States needs to come to grips with its rich and rewarding history of so much that immigrants have done from all walks of life. None of us have any special place in terms of how we arrived here. Most of us have come from somewhere. And I also think that we should emphasize and I appreciate your understanding of this, that we should not negate immigration as those people, for immigration impacts the business community, it impacts the religious community, the civic community. Immigrants are placed everywhere and just as an anecdotal story from Texas, I had a gentleman from the high courts of the British land of England, and of course we would think those are our cousins, came with all the appropriate documentation ready to accept or get his green card to perform his business and lo and behold, his fingerprints were long since lost and he got blamed for the loss of those fingerprints and now delayed for 5 years to get his green card. So we see that these issues are confronting us everywhere.
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I also don't want this to be a hearing that indicts wholeheartedly every Federal employee or INS employee, but can I say something to them if they can hear my voice? We are not your enemy, and I am outraged that we would hear such reckless comments; ''Do you think we would read your letters? Why don't you go to your Congressperson?'' As if we who are representatives of the people are their enemies. We are here to collaborate and make things work, and so I would hope that we can focus on several things.
Ms. Proctor, you have given me insight into a horrific and confusing problem. Individuals or children that are born to non-citizens here in the United States are citizens. Here you have adopted a minor child, I assume, and I did not hear the age when you first adopted your daughter and congratulations for you for a wonderful young lady, but now you have the trials and tribulations of the citizenship process. You have given me insight. I am rushing back to Washington to develop legislation, after further research, to end this kind of crisis or problem that this disunites, if you will, families and I thank you for bringing that to my attention.
I'd like also to mention a few other points, Mr. Chairman, to say that this is a combined problem. In addition to the backlog of cases not adjudicated, many of you in Chicago maybe well aware of the late amnesty issue, meaning the limbo of individuals who have been here eighteen years, paying taxes, mortgages, car notes and yet cannot get into the application process to obtain citizenship or be denied. They're in limbo. We need to fix that in Congress as well. We need to be able to reunite families. We, unfortunately, have passed legislation in years past that has disunited or un-united, if you will, families and I think that certainly does not help us as we look to improve these services.
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I think, and I hope that as I have the opportunity to hear from you further, that we need to do a number of points for the INS. To fully fund the adjudication function, to bring down the backlog of how long it takes to get an answer. Give us an answer. And Ms. Hummel, for your years of contribution, it appalls me to know that those of you who are in congressional offices are getting wrong answers. The least we can do is provide you with staffing of individuals in Federal agencies that can help give you the right answers. And I think that is something that we need to focus on and that is to coordinate policy-making and planning so that maybe the field office is not behind what has been done in Washington or in front of what is done in Washington and actually knows the procedures and the laws. And I do believe we need to create a strong, centralized leadership for immigration policy making and implementation. Let us get on the same page. Let us not be at the front of the book when someone else is at the end of the story. That drives me a little bit off the page, if you will.
So I would simply want to say to each and every one of you, thank you for your understanding of this issue and can we not say to the INS, I'm here to boost your popularity. I am here to at least move you over the twenty-five percent mark of supporters in Congress. That may be too high a number. I am here not as your enemy and I am here as well to take some words I heard from one of the staff members, to let you know that the customers and consumers of INS service are humans as well. They have families, they have futures, they have aspirations and desires and I want you to know was well if any of the INS employees take their time off and go to the citizenship proceedings or ceremonies. You could not leave there with a dry eye. These individuals are joyous about their opportunities to become citizens of the United States, contributing employees or employers. Why are we their obstacles if they wish to follow the law?
Page 90 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And so, I hope this hearing today, among other things as we listen to Mr. Perryman, will be a reordering of the culture of the INS as said by my colleague and friend from Illinois, ''And an understanding that you are public servants and we are not your enemies and we need to do the best for all of the people, all of the time.''
I thank you, again, for your very fine testimony.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Ms. Jackson Lee.
We all thank you for your testimony. We appreciate your being here today.
Could I ask those who need to engage in conversation to step out into the hall so that we can proceed with our third panel?
Let me introduce our final witness of the day, Mr. Brian Perryman, Chicago office district director, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Mr. Perryman, welcome. We look forward to your testimony.
STATEMENT OF BRIAN PERRYMAN, CHICAGO OFFICE DISTRICT DIRECTOR, U.S. IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE
Mr. PERRYMAN. Good morning, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss issues relating to customer service at the Chicago district office of the INS. In addition, Chairman Hyde, I thank you for your kind remarks concerning some of the improvements that we have made recently at the Chicago district office.
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As district director of the Chicago district office, I'm deeply committed to providing the highest quality service, and I take this obligation personally and seriously. I've taken numerous steps to fulfill this commitment in an environment of ever-increasing workload. Clearly, we would like to provide the service we believe our customers deserve. I am deeply committed to courteous, professional, and compassionate service to the public we serve. I have taken many steps to that end. I have enhanced professionalism in our work force and the accuracy of the information they provide to the public by conducting ongoing in-house training programs and internal management reviews. The long lines have disappeared, because we conducted a comprehensive survey, as you can see on Attachment 2 of my submission to the committee, which changed the manner in which our customers who visit the office are served.
The long waiting periods for adjudications have been reduced because we have adapted to changes in law and procedures and have reallocated staff to perform those functions more efficiently. In the area of public relations and education, I and members of my staff have been involved in weekly outreach efforts in the communities served by our office. They have included establishment of a bi-lingual toll free number, an INS website and cooperation agreements with media sources for the discrimination of timely and accurate information on immigration issues. Available technologies have been utilized to the maximum extent possible to enhance our service to our customers.
To address the ever-increasing workload and request for INS services, beginning in January, 1999, I began improvements to the physical conditions and space in the Chicago district office to facilitate customer access to information and services. In June, I moved to address the long lines that began forming in front of our building in response to the necessity to replace green cards to a greater degree. These efforts are paying off. At the beginning of August, the lines at the Chicago district office extended for nearly two blocks from the entrance. By the end of the month the lines were eliminated and all visitors to the building were able to enter the building by 8:30 a.m. I am sure if you walk by the building this morning you notice that there were no lines.
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In addition to enhancing customer's access to information and application forms, we are addressing the expeditious processing of applications once they are filed. This is another area of customer service where we have made considerable progress for which there is no better illustration than the adjudication of naturalization applications. As you can see in your Attachment 6 and on our chart this morning, 56,452 applications for citizenship have been adjudicated by the Chicago office through August, which is more than double the number we completed in physical year 1998 without additional resources.
The improvements that I have cited are not self-congratulatory claims. The Chicago district office has received numerous letters and phone calls from individuals and organizations which are illustrative that there has been a dramatic improvement in the way we do business. I would like to read some of these comments received just in the last month. From a Congressman the letter reads in part, ''The positive outcome of this case is the direct result of your employees' hard work, dedication, and perseverance. On behalf of my staff and myself, we are very grateful.'' From a Senator, ''I wanted to let you know that I found your employee to be extremely friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. Your employee was also very courteous and I wanted to let you know what a great job he did.'' Most importantly, Mr. Chairman, from an applicant for a benefit, ''As I think that it is fair to complain or express one's opinion about an incident, I also think that it is fair to express one's satisfaction when the work is well done. I had an appointment at 11:30 a.m. on August 12, 1999, for employment authorization renewal. I got into the building at 11:45 a.m., dropped my appointment letter, and sat at 11:50 a.m. My name was called at 11:55 a.m. I was fingerprinted and my picture taken at 12 p.m. My new EAD card was ready at 12:05 p.m. Congratulations to your employees. Twenty minutes in the process.''
Page 93 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC My office is committed to the employment and promotion opportunities for qualified women and minorities. Eighteen of twenty, 90 percent of the supervisory staff in the benefits program and three of three of my staff assigned to community and public relations consists of women and minorities with culture awareness and sensitivity to the needs of the immigrant community.
Despite these advances, we recognize that there are challenges we must still face as we strive for excellence and total customer satisfaction. I want to assure you that I am committed to keeping the Chicago district on the road to continuous improvement. On my right is Shirley Roberts, the assistant director in charge of all adjudications and customer services for the district. She has 40 years of experience with the INS. Behind me are Valentin Obegon, a son of an immigrant from Mexico, who is my community relations officer; Gail Montenegro, married to a Cuban naturalized United States citizen; Mariella Malero, a naturalized citizen from Cuba, and Michael Chan, a supervisory adjudications officer and a naturalized citizen from China.
On a personal note, I have dedicated my entire life to public service. I served in the Marines and fought in Vietnam. I joined the INS in 1969 and I have been with the Service since that day in various positions. My father also dedicated his life to public service and was a district director of INS in Cleveland at the time of his retirement, and my brother serves as a special agent with INS in Kentucky. My mother, who recently passed away, often said that my father and his two sons were married to the INS. My wife also says that. Indeed, since 1940 we have devoted 84 years of total service to the INS and to the country. We still serve.
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, that commitment to service continues. Thank you again for holding this very important hearing in Chicago. I'm personally committed to providing the best possible service to the public. I look forward to working with you in the pursuit of excellence.
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I will be happy to take any questions you may have at this time.
Mr. SMITH. Okay. Thank you, Mr. Perryman.
Chairman Hyde is recognized for his comments.
Mr. HYDE. Well, I'm delighted that you recognize the purpose of our hearing was really to be helpful. I know it was uncomfortable to hear criticisms. You also should temper those with the testimony that things are improving under your direction, and I think all of us up here have an understanding of the complexity, the difficulty that just the sheer numbers, not to mention the human problems with language and understanding and culture, how enormous they are.
I would just say this in closing my remarks. This has been very helpful, this hearing. I never encounter public servants, or let's put it this way, very often I encounter public servants who I think our government is very lucky to have dedicating their efforts and soul and time and commitment to their job and I think you are one of those, Mr. Perryman, and we congratulate you and we want to help you. You reach out to us and we reach out to you. Thank you.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Hyde.
Ms. Jackson Lee is recognized.
Ms. Jackson Lee. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and to Mr. Perryman and to Ms. Roberts, did I hear the correct name? Let me thank you for your public service. Mr. Perryman, thank you for chronicling the history of your family and obviously your longstanding commitment.
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I have a series of questions and I think I would be redundant, but let me say it, that we are here to be problem-solvers, solution finders and to collaborate as public servants to do what is best for those that we serve.
So my first question to you would be how can Congress be more effective in helping your regional office, which serves a number of states, solve some of its problems? And once you answer that I have a series of others that will take me up, I'm sure, to the period in which I have to question. So again, thank you for your testimony. What can we do back in Washington?
Mr. PERRYMAN. First of all, Congresswoman Jackson Lee, we're not where we need to be in serving the customer here in Chicago and many other offices throughout the INS. One of the things that I think we need to do is we need to bring the services closer to the community. I think we have some models for that that Congress authorized, monies for application support centers to more efficiently process fingerprints at locations near the community. It was listed by zip code. So that people who are applying for any INS benefit that needed to be fingerprinted could go in, get an accurate print taken and that could be expeditiously processed through the system. They don't have to go far from their residence. I think that that kind of a thing needs to be followed with a number of INS applications.
The reality is that I have certain operations which I have control over at the Chicago district, but as you may be aware, the INS processes applications through its service centers also and in fact does pre-processing of certain applications that I then ultimately handle here at Chicago. The local immigrant who needs an answer to their question comes to the Chicago field office because that's the most identifiable of INS locations for them. Their application may not be pending here, however, and therefore I think we need to work at a much closer communication and this is both technological communication and also conversation back and forth on a regular basis with our service centers so that we can give the accurate information we need to give to the customer, but I think we need to bring it closer to the communities. I think we've seen Federal agencies that have done that. I think we need to follow that model.
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Ms. JACKSON LEE. We all tend to ask long questions and long answers. I have a series of questions and forgive me if I rush you through your answers. I do want hear all of your testimony. But let me and I appreciate the answer, if you look at the passport applications in another agency all together, you'll notice that around where those applications are processed there are a lot of photography areas where they can take their picture and put it in hand and go right upstairs to wherever they're going and be processed. I'm delighted to hear that you have developed a procedure where you have, if you will, the fingerprints to be taken and brought in at the time of the interview. I hope that is institutionalized.
Mr. PERRYMAN. That's correct.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Because it was outrageous for the number of times report in my office that INS lost the fingerprints. But my question on that point is or a sort of global issue, your commitment and longstanding service to the INS, what took the Chicago office so long to make these changes? Why did it take a Member of Congress standing in line and unfortunately getting impolite treatment? Why do you think so and what can do to avoid that as well as, and I think I heard the time, but I ask the chairman for indulgence on one other question. But in any event, if you would just tell me why it took so long for those responses to come through?
Mr. PERRYMAN. Well, first of all, I think there are a lot of pieces to this puzzle. The first thing is that until early June we did not see these extraordinary long lines outside our office. They tripled or increased by something like four times in a very short period of time.
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Ms. JACKSON LEE. Why was that, sir?
Mr. PERRYMAN. This is because of the necessity of immigrants to replace their green cards. As you know, in 1989 the INS issued a new policy where those receiving their cards in 1989 have to replace them by 1999. Well, this went out to the community and as you can see by the assessment that is your Attachment 2 on my submission and the chart that we have here, we immediately did an assessment to find out what are all these extra people doing in our lines. Then, of course, what you have to do is to train people and to add people to be able to handle these additional numbers and also look at some processes to do that.
Maybe we didn't move fast enough, but my experience is, Congresswoman Jackson Lee, is that the worst thing that we can do is move so fast that we put people in places or positions to answer questions that are not properly trained. So we need to do that. What we did, Shirley and my staff looked at this problem, we assessed it, we had to bring in extra staff from other programs to help triage these lines and reduce these lines. That did not mean that they were necessarily going to get their green card faster. We don't process the green card in Chicago. Those are processed at the Service Center, but it did mean that for those who needed stamps in their passports to travel, who were already permanent residents, or those who needed to file an application, we could do that in a more expeditious, more organized way so that people didn't have to wait in lines.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. In following through on that, does that mean that you have dealt with these representations and testimony that we've heard today about the insensitive, rude, disrespectful behavior of employees? What kind of sensitively trainingI think, let me just say one of the difficulties in being in the INS is to balance your patriotism and love for this country with sometimes being overwhelmed about how many people are trying to come here. It's a difficult line to walk. You have to constantly be filled with stimuli, if you will, that this is good for America and sometimes I think all employees of the INS may be filled with the responsibility of being brusk as opposed to welcoming as we represent ourselves to be. So what are you doing about that and what are you doing about the incarceration or detaining of women asylum seekers in drunk tanks? Are you making sure that you're changing it and are you institutionalizing that change?
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So the first thing is the sensitivity training of employees that it's not unpatriotic to be kind to new immigrants who are coming in to seek a better opportunity and to seek a better place and then what are you doing with respect to the women who are in great need of not being separated from their children and being forced to be side by side with probably unhappy circumstances, frankly, and dangerous to their own person?
Mr. PERRYMAN. Well, first of all, under no circumstances to countenance employees who are rude or discourteous, and I think that we have to address that aggressively and this is what we've done in Chicago. We've conducted customer service training. Most recently, actually we began such training in 1998 and we continue that training and also cultural sensitivity training. Because I think as you very rightly addressed, Congresswoman Jackson Lee, immigrants who come knocking at our door sometimes are very intimidated by the government. Certainly governments in the home countries in many instances did not provide them the kind of courteous treatment that they would be looking for. I think one of the issues that we addressed which caused us all kinds of problems was our security staff, our contract security staff out in front of our building. We've asked for a more softer image on that staff and we've included them in the customer service sensitivity training and in October we have additional training scheduled for that staff and for our staff.
In 1997, we did this for our inspectors out at the airport and I might add our inspections operation has been recognized as the best operation for visa processing in North America. So the city of Chicago just received and award for that. So that works and we need to build on those kinds of successes and do those things. That's what we're doing to address that issue.
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Now, there is a difficult situation that sometimes arises. It's inevitable, for instance, that there will be complaints in our line of work since denial of the application has major consequences for the applicant and some times an applicant will take a denial as being rude or unprofessional treatment. We have a very difficult job and you have to constantly reemphasize from our supervisory staff that you need to say denial with professionalism and courtesy as well as saying approval. We approve 85 percent of the applications that come before us, Congresswoman Jackson Lee. We don't deny huge numbers of applications, however, sometimes when the consequences of those denials are so great, it's difficult for an applicant to receive such an answer.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. The woman's issue as far as the asylum?
Mr. PERRYMAN. As far as the asylees are concerned, we have recently entered into an agreement to expand the space for housing of women so that we don't have to put them in smaller county or local jails. This is has been a problem particularly for interior districts who generally do not have service detention facilities located in these interior locations. We've worked with DuPage County. Here in Chicago they've been very cooperative in expanding very professional and good space for the housing of these women. So that's something that begins for us in October and I think that that's going to dramatically improve that situation.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Ms. Jackson Lee.
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Mr. Perryman, I just have a couple of questions. You heard me a few minutes ago when I was directing comments toward Ms. Proctor describe the best of times, the worst of times from A Tale of Two Cities. Can you reassure us today that were she to now initiate the same process that she would not experience the same frustrations as far as delays and waits and inability to get duplicate documents that she endured before?
Mr. PERRYMAN. Mr. Chairman, we don't want anybody to wait long periods of time. It's absolutely a difficult thing, but as you know, the numbers of applications that we're receiving and the resources that we've been allocated make us have to balance what we do first and second. And sometimes, and as you know currently, the INS has large backlogs. We've made progress. I would like to think that she is not going to have to experience that kind of a wait the next time, but realistically the laws and regulations change and cause increases in applications to be filed in any number of areas such as NICARA, for instance. So again, what I have to do is to try to balance my work staff to work on these various issues in adjudications, in citizenship, in orphan cases, applications for advanced parole, a whole myriad of applications for benefits that I have a certain amount of resources to work this. So I would make a commitment to you that that's what I am going to try to provide within the resources under my control, Chairman Smith.
Mr. SMITH. Okay. Mr. Perryman, you've just referred to the backlogs. On the adjustment of status cases in physical year 1995 I think there was a backlog of 5,000. This year there's a backlog of 50,000, and yet the number of cases approved has been constant. What can we do to get the number of cases approved up?
Page 101 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. PERRYMAN. Mr. Chairman, I think we need to take another look at the approach to adjudication of benefits in the agency and I think we need to bring a little bit more balance to how we're allocating resources. I know the Commissioner is considering those kinds of things right now and so until we bring a balancethe interesting thing about immigration is for every action there's a reaction, as you know, Chairman Smith. When a person becomes a naturalized United States citizen, as Chairman Hyde mentioned earlier in his remarks, they turn around and file applications for their immediate relatives to immigrate to the United States. That's all work one times four or five for each application. So I think that we need to bring a balance to adjudications, to do more adjustment applications in relationship to the number of citizenship applications we do.
Mr. SMITH. Okay. My last question, Mr. Perryman, is that it's my understanding that there's an internal audit of the Chicago office going on and, if so, when would we be able to see the results of that audit?
Mr. PERRYMAN. The audit has been completed as far as my office is concerned. I have not seen the final report. I think you might want to direct your question, I can certainly refer it to our Office of Internal Affairs that does these audits. I believe they're preparing a draft report which then I see and address and then it goes to the Commissioner.
Mr. SMITH. If it's been completed then I hope that we will be able to obtain a copy. Thank you for being here today and thank you for responding to our questions.
Let me just say I think it's been an important day. I think we've all learned a lot. I hope that that's been true on both sides of the table and, Mr. Perryman, we look forward to hearing more about improvements in the future.
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In closing, I'd like to turn to Chairman Hyde and see if he has some additional remarks and as soon as he finishes we will stand adjourned.
Mr. HYDE. Well, that's a great incentive for me to finish speedily. I want to thank Sheila Jackson Lee and Lamar Smith, both sterling examples of the citizens Texas produces, and they both have come up here at my request to conduct these hearings and I think their presence has lent a lot to the proceedings. The cooperation from your office, Mr. Perryman, has been total and complete. The cooperation of the U.S. District Court has been total and complete. I think we've all learned something today and I think the problems that concern us are on the way to being improved and we will keep the spirit of effort alive to follow through. Many thanks to you all and thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Hyde.
Ms. Jackson Lee, do you have a final comment to make?
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Hyde, would you give another final comment, because I really want us to be able to acknowledge you in your hometown and to thank you for all that you have done as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in encouraging these hearings, and I appreciate you very much.
I have two questions that I am either going to get a yes or no or we'll be back in touch with you by way of writing and communication. I want to really press for Friday hours here. You don't have them. I don't understand why. You may have a yes or no or you're working on it and also to determine why it takes 7 months to get a replacement green card. Do you have a yes or no on the Friday hours? Is that is something that you looked at?
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Mr. PERRYMAN. Friday hours? We are open for certain services on Friday, Congresswoman Jackson Lee, general information and scheduled appointments.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Can we work with you then to explore that further? There seems to be some difficulty in the needs of having a full service office on that day and I'd like to explore that further.
Mr. PERRYMAN. They're resource-related, Congresswoman Jackson Lee.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. All right. We'll explore that further, and with that I will end and thank Mr. Smith and Mr. Hyde for giving us the opportunity to have our eyes opened and to be able to be problem solvers as opposed to the creators of problems. With that, I give you back to Mr. Hyde for his final goodbye.
Mr. HYDE. Good-bye.
Mr. SMITH. With that, we stand adjourned. Thank you, again.
Mr. HYDE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[Whereupon, at 11:40 a.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]