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Dear Editor:
As the development of their e-filing system continues, the BCIS must draw on the collective experience and expertise that the immigration bar has in applying technology to the US immigration process. The launch of e-filing with the BCIS in less than two weeks is an encouraging sign the bureau recognizes that: (1) The Internet can greatly enhance the BCIS' focus on customer service; (2) The government needs to accelerate the advance of their own technology as a part of the INS/BCIS reorganization; because (3) Immigration attorneys have been the fastest and most fervent adopters of technology in the practice of law, and are comfortable using advanced technology in their daily workflow.

Two items were covered in 8 CFR Part 103, the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Register entry on April 29: an interim final rule on allowing electronic signatures on applications and petitions, and one on electronic filing of applications, beginning with the I-90 and the I-765. Without a rule on electronic signatures, electronic filing would not be possible. As a group, the Bar understands the impact that technology makes on our practices. The BCIS has a unique opportunity to take advantage of our collective knowledge to help ensure that the e-filing program is a success. Including the Immigration Bar in the planning and implementation of e-filing as it moves forward will benefit all parties involved: immigration beneficiaries, attorneys, and the BCIS itself. As an attorney who has been using the Internet as the centerpiece of the immigration application process for 7 years, I am aware of the government's track record of including us in the planning and decision-making stages. We were promised input in the automation of the N-400 application process, but were left out. The Department of Labor committed to including us when implementing the labor certification application process, but ultimately failed to call on the collective knowledge and experience of the Bar. Now is the time for the BCIS to ask for the help of the Bar - not just as clients of the e-filing system, but as experts in the application and use of technology in the immigration process. Early indications, both official and unofficial, including instances recently published in Immigration Daily, are that the BCIS is moving forward on this system without the Bar's knowledge and experience. It is our responsibility to continue to go to the BCIS and clearly make the case that our insight is critical to the success of this program. Our conversations with the BCIS and its contractors indicate that what will be unveiled on May 29th will be a good first step, but much more will be needed. That's where our experiences as legal professionals using technology to enhance our service to clients will be invaluable. I hope that we all will make our voices heard when it comes to letting the BCIS know how to make the e-filing program live up to its potential. The comment period ending June 30, 2003 on e-filing should be used as a springboard to launch a Bar-wide effort to create a dialogue that will result in integrated technology that streamlines the immigration benefit process for applicants, their attorneys, and the BCIS.

Robert C. Meltzer, President