Chairwoman Roybal-Allard Statement at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services FY23 Budget Request Hearing
Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services fiscal year budget request:
Today I welcome Ms. Ur Jaddou, the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who is here to discuss the fiscal year 2023 budget request for USCIS, the management of its resources, and its operational priorities and challenges. Thank you for being here this morning.
Director, coming into this job you inherited massive challenges — eroding public confidence stemming from poor fiscal management and growing backlogs of applications and petitions that caused significant harm to individuals, communities, and businesses who rely on fair and timely USCIS processing and adjudication of benefits. USCIS and State Department operations have also been significantly impacted by the pandemic—further exacerbating these backlogs.
While it is easy to fixate on the challenges that still face the agency, it’s important to acknowledge progress that has been made. You and the Biden-Harris Administration have taken many important steps, beginning with the issuance of executive orders and proclamations aimed at restoring faith in our legal immigration system.
In addition, you have removed unnecessary barriers to naturalization for eligible individuals; withdrawn the punitive public charge rule; restored and expanded the Central American Minors program; made it easier for active military personnel and veterans, include those residing outside the U.S., to become citizens; updated guidance on VAWA Self-petitions to better align with the intent of the program; put a stop to the practice of returning applications with minor mistakes or omissions; and decreased the pending naturalization case queue by approximately 20 percent in 2021 and returned to pre-pandemic processing levels for naturalization.
Thank you for your leadership on each of these accomplishments.
But we cannot rest on our laurels. As of the end of January of this year, USCIS had a backlog of more than 5.26 million forms, representing nearly 62 percent of its total pending inventory.
This is the most pressing challenge facing this agency right now.
Congress provided $275 million in discretionary funding in the recently enacted funding bill for FY22 to help you address this problem, and your FY23 budget proposes additional appropriated resources to address for these purposes.
For USCIS’s humanitarian work, such as its asylum and refugee program, the request also reflects the beginning of an important and long- overdue transition away from fee funding to appropriated funding, along with new discretionary resources to support asylum officer adjudication of asylum claims made by newly arriving migrants.
Unfortunately, funding alone will not solve USCIS’s challenges. The hiring freeze, in particular, has had a lasting detrimental impact on the agency. I look forward to hearing more from you today about the steps you are taking to address your staffing needs, the challenges you face, and where there are opportunities for improvement.
I would now like to turn to the distinguished gentleman from Tennessee, Ranking Member Fleischmann, for his opening remarks.