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USCIS Attempts to "Go Digital" are Abysmal Failure

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A decade ago, the U.S. government began a push to move all of their immigration forms from paper to digital.  Today, there is only one of those forms online and one way to pay a certain fee electronically.  Meanwhile the 94 other forms can be filed with paper.

Originally, this project was expected to cost a half-billion dollars and be completed in 2013.  The project, which is run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is now expected to cost roughly $3.1 billion and be completed around 2019.  According to interviews with federal officials, this will make immigration policy reform much tougher, slow down the process of citizenship for current immigrants and hurt detection of national security risks.  

The state of the project can be blamed on poor management.  It wasn’t until three years after IBM received a $500 million contract, that officials completed basic plans for the computer system.  

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security knew about hundreds of defects in the software by 2012.  The agency continued to use the software because of pressure from the Obama administration.  This happened, in part, because of the administration’s push for reform and the officials wanting to please them.

The only form that is digitally available for filing is an application for renewing or replacing a misplaced green card, which is the document given to legal permanent residents.  According to government documents, many immigrants that applied online have waited as long as a year or never received their new cards.  This made it hard for many of these immigrants to work, travel, and attend school.  

Former president of the union that represents employees at immigration , Kenneth Palinkas said, “You’re going on 11 years into this project, they only have one form, and we’re still a paper-based agency. It’s a huge albatross around our necks.’’

“In 2012, we made some hard decisions to turn the Transformation Program around using the latest industry best practices and approaches, instead of simply scratching it and starting over.  We took a fresh start — a fix that required an overhaul of the development process — from contracting to development methodology to technology,’’ said a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services.  

The spokesman, Shin Inoye went on to say, “Since making these changes, we have been able to develop and deploy a new system that is able to process about 1.2 million benefit requests out of USCIS’s total annual work volume.  Our goals remain to improve operations, increase efficiency, and prepare for any changes to our immigration laws. Based on our recent progress, we are confident we are moving in the right direction.”

If Congress votes to implement immigration reform, the Department of Homeland Security would be able to easily make significant changes to immigration documents.  Currently, immigrants and their lawyers have had to deal with a very flawed process.  They often have to ship documents and even face problems with these documents being lost.  

An immigration attorney is quoted as saying, “It’s in­cred­ibly slow to use the few forms they put online.  Most immigration lawyers have concluded the system is half-baked.’’

Millions of immigrants have to suffer with this archaic process on a daily basis.  Immigrants often miss deadlines due to lost paperwork, which leads to the loss of jobs, traveling and schoolwork.  These immigrants have lost homes and countless opportunities.  

“If there are some bad apples in there who should not get a green card, who are terrorists who want to do us harm, how on earth are they going to find these people if they’re sending mountains of paper immigration files all over the United States?’’ said a D.C. immigration attorney.   

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