The Human Cost of Immigration Process Backlogs
By Sarah Torres, Managing Attorney
Compared to recent years, 2023’s immigration headlines seem dull. In 2018 we saw images of children in camps, separated from their families. In 2021 we watched Afghan families running to catch evacuation flights. Today, we see headlines like “Processing Times Continue to Increase,” “Backlogs Mean Long Waits for Visas.” It’s easy to gloss over headlines like that, assuming the story is simply about administrative delays.
However, behind every delay is a family, a child or an individual whose life is affected. Immigration process delays make lawful immigration and reunification hard. The most difficult part is knowing that much of the pain and disappointment caused by the delays could have been avoided.
In my three years as Managing Attorney at Opening Doors, I have witnessed remarkable courage and resilience of refugees and immigrants despite the challenges posed by the immigration process delays. I have seen clients whose green card applications have taken years. And yet they continued to be resilient, providing for their families and children. Persevering the uncertainties and hoping for a better tomorrow.
I also came across clients whose asylum cases have been pending for years and years. Government regulations require U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services to decide on asylum cases within six months, where as some of our clients have been waiting over three years just for an interview.
Despite not knowing what lies ahead or of their lawful status, these courageous new comers build their lives, and finish school to become professionals. They start businesses, enrich communities and become powerful economic contributors.
How big is the backlog?
According to the Migration Policy Institute, the average immigration case completed in January 2022 had been pending for about two and a half years, with some courts seeing average waits of over three years. Applications pending with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services increased since the start of the pandemic by a third, reaching nearly 8.6 million in March 2022. Immigration courts have 1.8 million pending cases.
Backlogs need to be addressed
No one should be left to live in a limbo state. Though it doesn’t make for juicy headlines, the human cost of immigration delays is too enormous to ignore. A sound immigration reform or policy change will help to address the mounted backlogs and expedite process applications.
We at Opening Doors are privileged to serve the individuals and families behind the headlines, and witness their resilience and resolve as they make their way through the maze of immigration law.