The federal government is not equipped to process the flood of applications from a proposed immigration legalization bill and the agency that would oversee that program won’t be ready for “a few years,” the office of the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general told Congress on Tuesday.
The warning, from Assistant Inspector General Frank Deffer, could severely complicate President Obama’s new push to pass an immigration bill this year.
“Adding 12 million more people to the system would be the mother of all backlogs. Clearly to us the systems could not handle it now,” Mr. Deffer told the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee. “It’s going to take a few years, so it’s something for Congress to consider that, when they implement this, they don’t have a date too soon.”
Mr. Obama, in a video message last weekend, told tens of thousands of immigrant rights supporters rallying on the Mall that he wants to try to get a bipartisan immigration bill passed this year that would legalize the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.
USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas said flatly that his agency will be prepared to handle that task but that he anticipates Congress will give the agency more resources to handle a new program.
The agency’s ability to handle an influx of applications is critical, particularly after studies showed the last amnesty, in 1986, gave legal status to hundreds of thousands of criminals and others who should not have been allowed to stay under the conditions of the law.
Fraudulent documents are already a problem for other programs administered by USCIS, such as E-Verify, the voluntary system businesses can use to see if job applicants are authorized to work. A recent study prepared for the agency found that E-Verify was able to weed out only about half of the illegal immigrants who applied for jobs.
Mr. Deffer said one of the reasons the inspector general began looking at USCIS’ technology five years ago was because of the efforts then to push for a new legalization bill.
He said occasional backlogs of applications are part of a cycle.
USCIS has been trying to upgrade its immigration benefits process for years, and Mr. Mayorkas acknowledged there have been few visible results. But he said the effort is moving, and officials are being careful because of many potential pitfalls.