Families struggling to make ends meet. Survivors of violence and torture facing danger and an uncertain future. U.S. businesses falling behind and losing talent to overseas competitors.

These are only some of the consequences of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) delays in processing immigration cases. As revealed in an AILA policy brief issued today, those delays have reached crisis levels under the Trump administration, inflicting hardships on individuals and employers nationwide. Analyzing agency data from fiscal years (FY) 2014 through 2018, AILA found:

  • The overall average case processing time surged by 46 percent over the past two fiscal years and 91 percent since FY 2014.
  • USCIS processed 94 percent of its form types—from green cards for family members to visas for human trafficking victims to petitions for immigrant workers—more slowly in FY 2018 than in FY 2014.
  • Case processing times increased substantially in FY 2018 even as case receipt volume appeared to markedly decrease.

Other data examined by AILA lays bare a USCIS “net backlog” exceeding 2.3 million delayed cases at the end of FY 2017. This total amounts to more than a 100 percent increase over a one-year span despite just a four percent rise in case receipts during that same period.

These ballooning delays leave families—including families with U.S. citizen spouses and children—in financial distress, expose protection-seekers to potential harm by bad actors, and threaten the viability of American companies facing workforce gaps. The case of Mayela Sanchez Miles, who sought protection from domestic abuse by filing a special immigrant petition (Form I-360) with USCIS, provides an illuminating example:

“Mayela Sanchez Miles said waiting for her I-360 petition to be approved was excruciating … Originally from Honduras and without a green card or work permit, she was still dependent on the man who would throw tables at her and threaten to have her deported or killed. Miles’ church gave her some food for the kids and helped her with rent. But soon her electricity and water were cut off because all the utilities were listed in her husband’s name.”

The chart below shows how nationwide average processing times for Form I-360 soared from 4.8 months in FY 2016 to 13.5 months in FY 2018—a 181 percent spike. Ms. Miles’ case took 17 months to approve.

Source: Data from USCIS webpage, “Historical National Average Processing Times for All USCIS Offices” (Nov. 29, 2018);

Yet rather than ease such destructive logjams, USCIS compounds them. It imposes policies and practices—like unnecessary interview requirements and spikes in burdensome Requests for Evidence—that drive down efficiency and ratchet up delays. Such measures act as bricks in the Trump administration’s growing “invisible wall”—a comprehensive set of actions slowing and decreasing legal immigration to and in the United States.

Congress never intended this wall. To the contrary, it meant for USCIS to function as a service-oriented benefits entity—one that efficiently and fairly processes immigration cases. AILA’s analysis makes clear that the agency is failing that mandate. When a family’s livelihood is implicated; when a child’s safety hangs in the balance; when a U.S. company’s viability is on the line, they cannot count on USCIS to deliver.

The need for USCIS reform, then, is urgent. AILA calls upon the agency to rescind its “invisible wall” policies and enhance transparency around its runaway delays. AILA also asks members to urge Congress, during our April 11, 2019 National Day of Action in Washington, DC, to hold USCIS to account through aggressive oversight. The stakes, for millions of individuals and businesses around the country, could not be higher.

To learn more about USCIS’s pervasive processing delays, watch the video below or read AILA’s full policy brief: “USCIS Processing Delays Have Reached Crisis Levels Under the Trump Administration.”