Immigration benefits backlog growing despite increased budget allocations

The number of immigrants awaiting decisions--including citizenship and permanent resident status--increased 59 percent in the past three years, and that despite $160 million appropriated in the past two years to remedy the logjam, nearly 6.2 million applications were pending at the end of September, according to a new General Accounting Office report.

"While Congress was funneling money to reduce the backlog, the backlog increased by merely 2.3 million cases," said a spokesman for House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc.

The GAO probe revealed that fees charged by Citizenship and Immigrations Services are insufficient to cover the cost of processing applications--in part due to expanding security costs. "The effect" of the disorder is that "CIS knows neither the cost to process new applications nor the cost to complete pending applications," the report said.

In anticipation of President Bush's immigration overhaul--announced Wednesday and due in six months--GAO recommended that Homeland Security Secretary Ridge direct CIS to study the fees and determine how much money will be needed to remedy the backlog.

In an August interview with Government Executive, CIS Director Eduardo Aguirre vowed to significantly reducing wait times and application backlogs for immigration benefits by increasing the agency's efficiency through new information technology investments.

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