The legal immigrant surge
About the only point of agreement on immigration in this country is that newcomers who play by the rules — fill out their forms, pay their fees and wait their turn — are welcome. But that great American dogma is being sorely tested by the inability of the federal government’s feeble citizenship agency to deal with a flood of applications that arose this summer.Congress should not wait on the new fees to appropriate money for the needed staff. Take away a couple of John Murtha's earmarks and pay for it. These are potential Republican voters and we should not delay their eligibility.
The agency, Citizenship and Immigration Services, is telling legal immigrants that applications for citizenship and for residence visas filed after June 1 will take about 16 to 18 months to process. The agency was utterly unprepared for the surge, and so tens of thousands of Americans-in-waiting will have to keep on waiting. Many, gallingly, may have to sit out next November’s election, even though that civic act was what prompted many of them to apply in the first place.
This was not supposed to happen. The director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Emilio Gonzalez, promised this summer that the era of bad, slow service was over. He said a whopping increase in fees that took effect July 30 — an average of about 66 percent across the board, with naturalization now costing $675 per person, up from $400 — was about to make his agency fit for the 21st century. Speaking to newly naturalized immigrants, Mr. Gonzalez promised immediate results.
One immediate result was entirely predictable: people rushed to get their paperwork in. The agency received nearly 2.5 million naturalization petitions and visa applications in July and August, more than double from those months last year. But Mr. Gonzalez’s spokesman, Bill Wright, told Julia Preston in Friday’s Times: “We certainly were surprised by such an immediate increase.” Surprised and swamped. The agency’s processing center in Vermont is only now acknowledging naturalization petitions that came in by July 30.
.... The country should summon the will, the resources and the basic administrative competence to carry out one of its most vital functions, the making of new citizens. Mr. Gonzalez’s agency says that the new revenue will allow it to eventually add 1,500 employees to its work force, an increase of about 10 percent, and that staff members have volunteered to work overtime to handle the latest backlog.
The agency has made such vows before, and the volunteerism doesn’t cut it. This is not a benefit car wash or a canned-food drive. Turning immigrants into citizens demands better than platitudes and broken promises.
I think the surge is about more than the increased fee. It is also a healthy by product of increased enforcement of the immigration laws. It is what we want to happen from increased enforcement and we need to make sure that it works.