Record Lawsuits Challenge Immigration Application Delays

The federal government is facing a record number of lawsuits over processing delays for immigration applications.

More than 6,000 such lawsuits have already been filed this fiscal year. That’s about three times as many annual lawsuits as two years ago, according to data analysts at Syracuse University.

In North Carolina, attorneys say the delays are extending family separations and hurting businesses.

Last year, US Citizenship and Immigration Services received about 9 million applications — the highest number since 2017.

The increase isn’t why the agency is taking longer to process applications, however.

Charlotte-based immigration attorney Doug Thie said the backlog began building before the pandemic.

“We’re seeing partially due to COVID, partially due to the change in administration and backlogs from the previous administration, processing times for applications that have ballooned — that would probably be the only appropriate word,” Thie said.

Wait times vary widely, depending on the type of application and the complexity of the case.

For U visas, granted to victims of crime, USCIS currently estimates a five-year wait to complete most cases.

For spouses of U.S. citizens, green card applications take about 20 months at the Charlotte processing center. Immigration attorney Jessica Alatorre said that wasn’t the case until recently.

“Before, I had never told anyone more than 12 months, and that was saying, that’s if your case really takes longer because you have a bigger file,” Alatorre said.

During the Trump administration, Alatorre said clients started receiving more requests for in-person interviews and more requests for evidence. Then came USCIS spending cuts, a hiring freeze and staff furloughs in 2020, all contributing to the current backlog.

“There was no focus. It was, ask them for more on everything. Under the Biden administration, I think that there’s been a concerted effort to dwindle it down to the specific issue,” Alatorre said.

By Kayla Young
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