The Bush administration says it is working to process applications for U.S. citizenship with greater speed -- in a matter of months rather than years.
The director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Emilio Gonzalez, admits his agency has a problem: a long backlog of people who have submitted applications to become American citizens, and that this problem causes frustration for all concerned.
"A lot of times, depending on the office you go into, you find that the wait is fairly significant, it is unacceptably significant," he said. "And that is why we instituted a backlog elimination program where over the last three years we have been putting manpower, resources and money into those offices that have backlogs, with an end [goal] of having everyone adjudicated within six months from the time of application."
Gonzalez was speaking at a news conference in Washington. He said the six-month processing goal assumes that all paperwork is filed correctly from the start, and that background checks reveal nothing of concern.
But even under the best of circumstances, he said his agency faces a monumental task. Gonzalez noted that the United States receives more citizenship and immigration applications than any other nation, and processing them takes time.
"We run 135,000 name checks a day, 35 million a year," he said. "That is huge."
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which was created in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Director Gonzalez says, while speed in processing applications is important, he would rather err on the side of caution when it comes to screening people for citizenship.
But if the agency's current duties are overwhelming, yet another responsibility may lie ahead. Gonzalez said his employees are preparing to handle applications related to a possible guestworker program President Bush has proposed that would allow millions of illegal aliens to remain in the United States as authorized temporary workers. Most analysts say it is doubtful Congress will enact such a program in the immediate future.