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[Congressional Record: May 18, 2000 (Senate)]
[Page S4191-S4207]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []


      By Mrs. FEINSTEIN (for herself, Mr. Abraham, Mr. Leahy, Mr. 
        Jeffords, Mr. Reid, Mr. Moynihan, Ms. Mikulski, Mr. Graham, Mr. 
        Durbin, and Mr. DeWine):
  S. 2586. A bill to reduce the backlog in the processing of 
immigration benefit applications and to make improvements to 
infrastructure necessary for the effective provision of immigration 
services, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

    immigration services and infrastructure improvements act of 2000

  Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, today I am introducing bipartisan 
legislation that, if enacted, will enable the Immigration and 
Naturalization Service (INS) to cut through and eventually eliminate 
the unacceptably long backlogs in its processing of applications for 
naturalization, adjustment of status, and other immigration benefits.

  I am pleased that Senators Abraham, Jeffords, DeWine, Leahy, Reid, 
Moynihan, Mikulski, Graham, and Durbin have joined me as original 
cosponsors of this important bill.
  All of us have heard the horror stories of the long delays in 
processing naturalization and immigration applications. What was once a 
6-month process has now become a 3- to 4-year ordeal.
  The ``Immigration Services and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 
2000,'' which I am introducing today, would provide the Immigration and 
Naturalization Service with the direction and resources it needs to 
reduce the current immigration backlogs and hold it accountable to get 
the job done.
  It is unacceptable that millions of people who have followed our 
nation's laws, made outstanding contributions to our nation, and paid 
the requisite fees have had to wait months--and in too many cases, 
years--to obtain the immigration services they need. The enormous 
delays in processing have had a negative impact on the reunification of 
spouses and minor children, and on businesses seeking to employ 
essential workers to help keep them globally competitive.
  The fact is, there are many victims of an agency that is in dire need 
of a change in the way it does business. Today, it has become all too 
clear that the INS needs to re-engineer its adjudication process, which 
will require both additional resources and strong congressional 
direction and oversight.
  The ``Immigration Services and Infrastructure Improvement Act'' would 
enable millions of law-abiding residents, immigrants, and businesses, 
who have played by the rules and paid fees to the INS, to have their 
applications processed in a timely manner.
  This bill evolved from discussions with immigration advocates, the 
business community, State and local leaders, and the Administration. 
Specifically, this legislation would do three things.
  First, it would create a separate ``Immigration Services and 
Infrastructure Improvement Account'' (``Account'') and authorize such 
sums as may be necessary to fund it.
  This account would permit the INS to fund across several fiscal years 
infrastructure improvements, including additional staff, computer 
records management, fingerprinting, and nationwide computer 
integration. Moreover, it would pay for these infrastructure 
improvements through direct appropriations rather than through 
increased application fees.
  Second, the ``Immigration Services and Infrastructure Improvement Act 
of 2000'' would require the INS to put together a plan on how it will 
eliminate existing backlogs and report on this plan before it could 
access any of the funds.
  In its report, the INS would be required to describe its current 
processing capabilities and detail its plans to eliminate existing 
backlogs in immigration benefit applications and petitions.
  And third, it would require the Department of Justice to submit an 
annual, detailed report to Congress, including data on the number of 
naturalization applications and immigration petitions processed and 
adjudicated in each of the fiscal years following enactment of the act.
  The act would also require the INS to report on the number of cases 
still pending in the naturalization, immigrant and nonimmigrant visa 
categories. In some cases this would involve a state-by-state or 
regional analysis of INS's progress in processing applications in a 
timely fashion.
  In the past 7 years, 6.4 million people applied for U.S. 
citizenship--more than the previous 37 years combined. Today, INS faces 
a backlog of 1.3 million naturalization applications. Although the INS 
has put more resources into processing naturalization applications, 
this has come at the expense of processing other immigration-related 
applications, such as those for lawful permanent residence. At the 
beginning of this year, the INS had a pending caseload of 951,350 
adjustment of status applications--an eightfold increase since 1994.
  As a result, major cities continue to face tremendous delays in the 
processing of INS naturalization and immigrant applications. Five 
cities--Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Miami, and Chicago--
handle 65 percent of the nation's naturalization workload.
  By now, most of us are familiar with the numbers. Indeed, it would be 
easy for one to look at and decry the statistics reflecting the 
enormous number of backlogged applications. Instead, I come to floor of 
the Senate today to talk about the human cost of these backlogs and 
what I intend to do through legislation to help the INS put itself on 
its proper course.
  As one who represents California, a State that is number one among 
immigrant-receiving States, I have seen firsthand how families and 
businesses can be disproportionately affected by the smallest 
fluctuations in INS resources and services.
  One out of every four Californians--about 8.5 million people--is 
foreign born. The average number of new immigrants to the State is more 
than 300,000 annually. Population growth of this magnitude is like 
adding a city the size of Anaheim, California each year.
  The constant processing delays at the INS have had a tremendous 
impact on the ability of immigrants to naturalize, and seek services 
related to their application for green cards, work authorization, and 
family reunification.
  On almost a daily basis, my office fields calls from people who have 
been waiting three or four years to naturalize or to adjust their 
status to that of lawful permanent resident. And this is after having 
paid a fee of $225 per naturalization application, and $220 for an 
adjustment of status application--per person. Imagine how much of an 
investment a family makes in order to play by the rules.
  Applicants for these services are never really sure if their 
application is still in the process or lost, especially when the 
expected time for a fingerprint or interview notice comes and goes.
  I have received numerous letters from constituents that vividly 
portray the human toil these backlogs have taken.
  For example, one person wrote that he and his family have been in the 
country legally for more than 10 years. They filed their request for 
permanent residency at the right time. Their file, however, has moved 
so slowly within the INS that one of their sons is now about to ``age 
out'' of qualifying for permanent residence because he will turn 21 
  Just recently, I received a letter from a young student at Berkeley 
who filed a citizenship application in October 1996. She is still 
waiting to receive word from the INS on the correct status of her file.
  She was told by the INS in January this year that it had closed her 
case in June 1999 without her knowledge or ability to address any 
concerns they might have had with her case. In fact, she was never told 
there were problems with her case.
  Up until January, she had been told by the INS that she would be 
receiving her interview notice within six weeks. Unfortunately, six 
weeks became three years. Now, almost four years later, she has come to 
my office for assistance, wondering what she might have done to create 
this situation.
  The fact is, like millions of others throughout the country, she is a 
victim of an agency that is in dire need of a change in the way it does 

[[Page S4192]]

  Millions of people are being prevented from participating in American 
civic life because of the inability of INS to process their 
naturalization applications in a timely fashion (e.g., they cannot 
vote, run for public office, assume certain government positions). U.S. 
citizens are unable to be reunited with their spouses and minor 
children because of the delays in INS processing.
  And thousands of American businesses, such as high tech companies 
like Sun Microsystems and others, have been prevented from getting 
qualified workers because of the INS's inability to provide access to a 
critical portion of their workforce. Lengthy delays and inconsistencies 
in INS processing have taken a toll on company projects, planning and 
  How does this legislation help Congress hold the INS accountable for 
the prompt delivery of services? If INS does not met the goals of set 
out in this legislation, it would have to explain to Congress why the 
backlogs persist and what the agency is doing to fix them. This 
legislation would also require the INS to describe the additional 
mechanisms and resources needed to meet Congress's mandate that 
backlogs be eliminated and that the processing of applications take 
place in an acceptable time frame.

  While funds devoted to enforcing our immigration laws have rightfully 
been increased in recent years, until very recently, Congress had not 
provided increases in funding to the INS specifically to deal with the 
increased missions that Congress has imposed on it. Nor has Congress 
provided adequate funding to deal with the increased number of 
naturalization and other immigration benefits applications that have 
been submitted in recent years and continue to be submitted.
  The business community, immigration community, and the Administration 
have indicated their support for mechanisms such as those included in 
my legislation. I wish to thank the following organizations whose 
valuable input and ideas helped shaped this important legislation:
  American Business for Legal Immigration; American Council on 
International Personnel; American Immigration Lawyers Association; 
Hebrew Immigration Aid Society; Mexican American Legal Defense and 
Education Fund; National Association of Latino Elected Officials; 
National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium; National Council of 
La Raza; United Jewish Communities; and United States Catholic 
  Mr. President, the ``Immigration Services and Infrastructure 
Improvement Act of 2000'' would provide direction and accountability on 
how the INS uses appropriated funds. Passage of this legislation would 
send a strong congressional directive to the INS that timely and 
efficient service is not merely goal, but a mandate.
  I urge the Senate to act swiftly and pass this urgently needed