Despite spending more than $1 billion in an attempt to digitize immigration records, the United States government has one single form that is available online. At the present time, the 94 other forms involved in the process can only be obtained through a hard copy.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been working on this project for more than a decade, showing that massive amounts of both time and money have been utterly wasted. Originally, the entire process of converting to online forms was supposed to cost “just” $500 million and be completed by 2013.
Current estimates show that the project will cost $3.1 billion and not be finished until 2020. Overall, it’s clear that the government has done a disgraceful job in overhauling immigration policies.
The entire initiative has been mismanaged from the very beginning. Reports show that the agency failed to complete basic plans for the computer system more than three years after the contract had been established. The company responsible for the technological aspects project, IBM, has also been accused of using outdated programs and hardware. Now the country is taking yet another step backwards by abandoning hardware entirely, in favor of a cloud-based approach.
By 2012, officials USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were swamped with critical software defects in regards to the project. This caused the agencies to try a sort of “fresh start”, but this only put them further behind schedule. Meanwhile, the Obama administration was urgently pressing officials to get more work completed, saying that it was vital to immigration reform.
Spokesperson for the USCIS Shin Inouye said, “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. 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.”
Currently, the only form that is available for electronic filing is an application that allows an immigrant to renew or replace their green card. This online form does allow people to save hours of time by bypassing the highly inefficient paper system. Still, this does not help new immigrants in the slightest. Making matters worse, even the online program is slow; some people have waited more than a year to receive their new green cards.
Former immigration union president 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.’’
The DHS has admitted to the fact that they have done an utterly poor job throughout this entire period. However, the department insists that they are doing everything they can in automating immigration services. Currently, the government must sort through roughly eight million applications every year.
Meanwhile, many officials from the DHS have promised that electronic system would be available as soon as Congress passes immigration reform. But given these setbacks, that looks increasingly unlikely.
Until an overhaul of the system does take place, immigrants and their lawyers will continue to be highly frustrated by the error-filled archaic paper system of the government. It’s just another case of the government failing to get things done.