Immigration

Excessive Bureaucracy Is Making America's Broken Immigration System Worse

A new Government Accountability Office report offers a useful lesson about the often unseen, human costs of making forms more difficult to fill out.

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The chaos unfolding at the Del Rio International Bridge in Texas might be getting all the headlines, but arguably a bigger problem with America's broken immigration system has to do with a far less exciting topic: paperwork.

There is a lot of it. And, thanks to one of the lingering effects of the Trump administration, there is even more paperwork required to immigrate legally today than there used to be.

Yes, the Trump administration had a mixed-to-good track record when it came to deregulating various aspects of the federal government. But the opposite was true when it came to immigration policy. By demanding more information from would-be immigrants and mandating that immigration officials conduct in-person interviews before approving applications, the previous administration created new administrative burdens.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) spells out some of the consequences of Trump's efforts to slow legal immigration by tangling it in additional layers of bureaucratic red tape. Among other things, the GAO says that one of the major drivers of the immigration system's mounting caseloads—The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reports a backlog of nearly 7 million applications and petitions—is the government's own, recently beefed-up immigration bureaucracy.

"Policy changes resulting in increases in the length of USCIS forms and expanded interview requirements" are one of the main reason's why the USCIS' pending caseload has expanded by 85 percent since 2015, even as the number of applications and petitions remained relatively flat, the GAO reported last month. "Longer forms increased the amount of time it takes for staff to adjudicate applications and petitions, and resulted in longer interviews, since adjudicators were to collect and confirm additional information."

The GAO's review looked at seven of the most frequently used immigration forms and petitions—forms that account for roughly 70 percent of USCIS' pending caseload—and found that six of them had increased in length since 2015. In some cases, the increases were dramatic. The Application for Employment Authorization was expanded from one page and 18 questions to seven pages and 61 questions. Form I-130, which is the first step in applying to have a relative immigrate legally, went from being two pages and 41 questions to 12 pages and 158 questions.

As you'd expect, the processing time for Form I-130 increased as well—from an average of about three months in 2015 to more than 11 months last year, the GAO found.

This is perhaps an underappreciated aspect of how the Trump administration sought to limit legal immigration—one that the Biden administration has so far done little to reverse. We're now seeing the consequences of what some immigration experts warned at the time were "small but well-calibrated actions through regulations, administrative guidelines, and immigration application processing changes" intended to slow down "family- and employment-based immigration" as well as refugee admissions and other forms of legal entry into the country.

And all that was before Trump shut down the county's immigration offices in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic hit—a move that added to the backlogs and one that Biden has yet to fully undo.

There may not be a direct line between those actions and the migrants seeking to enter the country at the Del Rio bridge this week. But there are undoubtedly some spill-over effects. Some migrants with relatives in the United States likely would have taken advantage of the legal immigration system if it were functioning more smoothly, or at all. Obviously, there should be better alternatives for people who want to come to America to peacefully work than to pile up under a bridge and hope to avoid deportation.

Unlike the current situation at the border—which is largely the result of migrants fleeing horrible conditions in Haiti and El Salvador—the problems plaguing the legal immigration system are mostly self-imposed and thus within the power of the Biden administration to solve.

It could start by rolling up some red tape. Until Congress or the Biden administration gets around to fixing this mess, the legal immigration backlog is a useful reminder about the often unseen, human costs of expansive government bureaucracy—and how that bureaucracy can be weaponized for political ends just by making forms more difficult to fill out.

NEXT: 'Domestic Terrorism' Fears Will Be Used To Justify Increased Snooping and Harassment

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63 responses to “Excessive Bureaucracy Is Making America's Broken Immigration System Worse

  1. Well, as long as we can blame it all on Trump.

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    3. President Biden Is Making America’s Broken Immigration System Worse
      It might not have been perfect under Trump, but it worked. Under Biden it is an unmitigated disaster. Not that liberal woke Reason would ever admit that.

      1. I think the idea that it worked is a bit of a stretch. The border was in the news as much then as it is now.

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    5. That goes without saying.

  2. Couldn’t we simplify it by deporting illegal immigrants as soon as they cross the border?

    1. LOL. What, and force large donors to have to raise wages?

      Just who do you think our Government works for?

      1. Precisely.

        Without a steady influx of cost-effective foreign-born labor, Reason.com’s benefactor Charles Koch might once again see his net worth drop below $50,000,000,000 — like during the darkest days of the #DrumpfDepression.

        #OpenTheBordersToKeepLaborCostsDown

        1. Amen, when the Koch brothers decide to switch parties as they weren’t getting their was as Republicans, Reason became liberal and wokeb>. One Koch brother died but that didn’t stop the other one.
          I had said that for years, the Koch brothers and Soros always had the same aim, to enrich themselves and make everyone else their serfs, they just used different parties to gain their riches. That the Koch’s changed parties just proves that.

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        2. Instead of people migrating to these United States, the rational, economic solution would be to ‘export’ the United States, by adding more States, to these United States.

          All of the prior states admitted to the Union, from Kentucky to Alaska, existed as a ‘territory’ and had to meet a criteria, before being admitted to the Union.

          Who will contend that is no longer possible?

    2. Barbed wire in front of minefields a couple hundred yards deep backed up by machine guns would nudge applicants to the proper authorities.
      Make the forms simpler.
      “Do you agree never to apply for any form of aid from any level of government in the USA?”
      Yes = come on in
      No = bye

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  3. What difference, at this point, does it make?
    None of the people under the bridge are coming in legally, so they never see the forms.
    They don’t even have to wear a mask or get vaccinated!

    1. The blog post above isn’t about the Haitians. It briefly mentions them in the first paragraph, and then changes to a tangentially-related subject: “The chaos unfolding at the Del Rio International Bridge in Texas might be getting all the headlines, but arguably a bigger problem with America’s broken immigration system…”

  4. “but arguably a bigger problem with America’s broken immigration system ”

    Again Reason insists on calling all illegal border crossers as immigrants.

    Are they stupid or just promoting propaganda for the immigration stance ?
    Probably both.

    1. It refers to them as “would-be immigrants”, which is completely appropriate for an article discussing immigration application processing.

      1. They’re not immigrants. They’re illegals.

    2. Actually, to be more precise it refers to “would-be immigrants” when discussing, well, would-be immigrants in general, not specifically the Haitian border crossers.

      The article makes no other mention of the word, “immigrant”.

      1. Time to readopt your “White Knight” moniker for these kinds of posts, Mike.

      2. “There may not be a direct line between those actions and the migrants seeking to enter the country at the Del Rio bridge this week. But there are undoubtedly some spill-over effects. Some migrants with relatives in the United States likely would have taken advantage of the legal immigration system if it were functioning more smoothly, or at all. Obviously, there should be better alternatives for people who want to come to America to peacefully work than to pile up under a bridge and hope to avoid deportation.”

        From the article above, using the word “migrant” twice and clearly trying to connect the immigration system with the chaos at the border. Although migrant and immigrant mean slightly different things crossing the border illegally makes both the same because the effect is the same.

        The article was making connections but you either didn’t read it or blatantly ignored it.

    3. When is Koch going to put these illegal border crossers to good use by replacing the writers here? Almost as cheap as the interns.

  5. Literally nothing could be worse than US immigration policy under Orange Hitler. He built concentration camps. He made people drink from toilets.

    He. Even. Put. Kids. In. Cages.

    #DemocratsDontCageKids

    1. I assume that is a poor attempt as sarcasm since nothing in the comment was true.

      1. You’re correct. OBL is a frequently funny parodist.

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  7. The nightmare of the LEGAL immigration system has nothing to do with the ILLEGAL immigrant issue at the border. The legal system has been a mess for decades.

    Case of a client – physician. He came to a US hospital for his residency in 1999, married a US citizen, had a child. He knows how to fill out paperwork and move through the system. FINALLY in 2016, he gave his oath to become a citizen of the United States. 17 YEARS to become a citizen had nothing to do with the Trump administration.

    Another client, came to the US with his parents in 1995. Applied and receive work cards, got married, had children. Three times, his paperwork was “lost” and his work visa expired. He had a job, owned a house, had citizen children in school and he had to leave the country, reapply, and get back to work. Three children graduated high school by the time he got his permanent residency – and he is still going through the process for citizenship. At least he can now leave the country to see family and know he will be allowed back in.

    Those are examples of the legal system from the 1990’s forward. It should not be that onerous.

    1. As a legal immigrant, I don’t have a problem with legal immigration being onerous; immigration is a privilege, not a right.

      I do have a problem with treating illegals better than legal immigrants, and that’s what progressives have consistently done.

      1. That is the big problem. Why would anybody follow the rules if doing so disadvantaged you so?

      2. It is why my wife and her family, as well as my clients are so offended by the kid glove treatment of those that BROKE THE LAW. My wife’s family and clients worked hard to keep within the system. The system is broken.

    2. You had cause to bring suit on his behalf. Agencies and their employees sometimes need a stick to expedite paperwork.

  8. Fixing the immigration system is a job Americans are no longer willing to do.

    1. You have said this before and sadly it is true.

  9. Ah, of course. The government must make it as easy as possible for everyone everywhere in the world to come to this country in order to depress wages and demographically replace what remains of a population that still clings to some semblance of a notion of individual freedom in favor of one is too stupid and powerless, and addicted to “free” government benefits to resist authoritarian uniparty rule.

    This country is in a state of complete collapse, on brink of civil war, and all these fucking cucks at Reason can manage to complain about is paperwork.

    Their reckoning cannot come soon enough.

    1. Any time you hear the words “cheap labor”, you can rest assured it means your descendants will be paying through the nose, in perpetuity.

    1. Not if you want to get hired at an establishment outlet!

      This video currently has 16,971 views. How many millions of viewers does CNN have?

      I give him props for integrity, but unfortunately he’s pissing into the ocean.

  10. I would say robinette bidet’s alligator mouth is overloading his hummingbird ass when it come to immigration!

  11. dude your strategic vote helped erase the southern border

    1. So far Biden seems to be as tough on illegal immigrants as Trump.

      1. lol when Psaki the Red tells you the number they’ve let walk across since January give me a call. they know how many.

      2. Curious how “shoveling them into the country as quickly as possible” is “as tough…as Trump”

        The huge swarm? That is SOLELY Biden’s doing by promising no evictions during his campaign.

      3. So far Biden seems to be as tough on illegal immigrants as Trump.

        I’m surprised you did not provide the cite to back up your claim but doing an internet search with your rose colored glasses on can be hard.
        Did Biden threaten to take those immigrants out behind the school and punch ’em in the nose?

          1. Not a digital subscriber. So to interpret what you are saying here, and correct me if I’m wrong, so far, after inviting all of the immigrants to come here, changing policy, re-adopting Trump’s policy, re-instating catch and release, caging children, allowing 100’s of thousands into the country, restricting Ice’s ability to deport illegals and not having them tested or vaccinated, the Reason article clearly shows how Biden, like Trump, is now using the pandemic to expel (some) migrants. Correct?
            Sounds just like the Trump admin, except for the part where all of the illegals end up on this side of the border in Texas and AZ towns to be filtered to the rest of the US.

  12. I have noticed over the last few decades the strong work ethic exceptionally practiced by new immigrants, and migrants, is demonstrably notable in the produce harvesting sector. It’s one of typically hump-busting work that almost all post second or third generation Canadians won’t tolerate for themselves. Every time I observe them, I feel a bit guilty, since, considering it purely on a moral/human(e) level, I see not why they should have to toil so for minimal pay and not also I?

    Such laborers work very hard and should be treated humanely, including regular access to Covid-19 vaccination and proper workplace protection, but often are not. While I don’t favor Canada-based businesses exporting labor abroad at very low wages if there are unemployed Canadians who want that work, I can imagine such laborers being much more productive than their born-and-reared-here Canadian counterparts.

    To be clear, however, I’m not implying that a strong work ethic is a trait racially genetically inherited by one generation from a preceding generation, etcetera. It’s an admirable culturally determined factor, though also in large part motivated by the said culture’s internal and surrounding economic and political conditions. I anticipate that if they (as citizens) resided here for a number of decades, their strong work ethics and higher-than-average productivity, unfortunately, likely would gradually diminish as these motivated laborers’ descendant generations’ young people become accustomed to the relatively easier Western way of work.

    One can already witness this effect in such youth getting caught up in much of our overall liberal culture — attire, lingo, nightlife, as well as work. I’ve also found that ‘Canadian values’ assimilation often means the unfortunate acquisition of a distasteful yet strong sense of entitlement.

    1. Such laborers work very hard and should be treated humanely

      If they are here illegally, they should be deported, humanely.

      If they are here legally, they should be treated like any other US resident, no better and no worse.

      Every time I observe them, I feel a bit guilty, since, considering it purely on a moral/human(e) level, I see not why they should have to toil so for minimal pay and not also I?

      Most hard working migrants are low skill and their labor isn’t very valuable. That’s why they don’t get paid much.

      Americans with comparably low skill receive government handouts and don’t work at all. You’re right that that’s not fair: the government handouts should stop.

  13. One quibble with the story, most of the Haitians under bridge didn’t come from Haiti, but have come from South American countries in which they’ve been residing for years and actually doing fairly well in.

    1. Can you cite a reference for this? I am not disputing the fact, but wondering why if you are doing well would you move to a camp under a bridge.

  14. The US immigration system is perfectly capable of dealing with legal immigrants and their paperwork.

    What has screwed up the US immigration system is that it is flooded with illegals trying to adjust their status or evade deportation. But Reason approves of that sort of thing: “screw legal immigrants” is Reason’s motto.

    1. Of course, because they’re run by Koch Industries, which favors cheap labor above all else.

      Whether that’s good policy for the people who actually live in this country legally is entirely another matter…and useful idiots like Boehm could care less because for them it’s all about abstractions of human rights with zero regard for real world negative consequences that contradict their theoretical utopia. They’re too stupid to realize they’re being played (which is, of course, why the pinnacle of his career is writing for Reason).

  15. Yes, the Trump administration had a mixed-to-good track record when it came to deregulating various aspects of the federal government. But the opposite was true when it came to immigration policy.

    Because the Trump administration didn’t want the world flooding our borders looking for free handouts and flooding our system with illegal voters, you simpleton fuckstain.

    Lefty “libertarians” really are the most worthless and dishonest trash on the Internet.

  16. Running trillion dollar deficits..inflation..the last thing we need are 50 million folks on the dole and exhausting our hospitals and raising property taxes to pay for schooling..we need a 5 year break from all immigration and to provide transportation home to those here illegally. It is the moral thing to do. Also our immigration policy should give priority to similar cultures…open our doors to Italians, Germans, North Africans, Palestianians, Syrians, Norwegians and so on…

  17. oh and “F Joe Biden”..people were saying that today at Dunkins when they ran out of whole milk.

  18. That’s how democracy inhibits or outlaws things they don’t want/like. Make the process so burdensome and difficult most people will give up.

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