House Holds Oversight Hearings on USCIS, EOIR
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee held oversight hearings (full video with Q&A) in December 2015 on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and on the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). Leon Rodriguez, USCIS Director, testified at the USCIS hearing. Juan Osuna, EOIR Director, testified at the EOIR hearing.
At the USCIS oversight hearing, Mr. Rodriguez noted (Testimony, PDF) that his agency’s priorities include, in addition to safety and security issues, implementing the executive actions on immigration announced in November 2014. Those include reducing unauthorized immigration at the border; prioritizing removal of the most dangerous; improving the legal immigration system for families, employers, students, entrepreneurs and workers; and, on a case-by-case basis, considering for deferred action certain undocumented immigrants under two initiatives—Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), and expanding the population of individuals eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Mr. Rodriguez noted that while DAPA and expanded DACA are on hold pursuant to a court injunction, USCIS and its partners in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other departments have been working to implement the other parts of the executive actions. Mr. Rodriguez said that other top priorities were effective management of the Refugee Admissions Program, continuing modernization of USCIS business and applicant interaction processes and service, anti-fraud and national security screening, and other efforts.
At the EOIR oversight hearing, Mr. Osuna noted (PDF) that previous budget cuts led to backlogs of more than 457,000 immigration cases across the United States as of the end of fiscal year (FY) 2015, which was exacerbated by the 2014 influx of border-crossers. Mr. Osuna said a number of new immigration judges are being hired to deal with the backlogs, as a result of new appropriations. Among other things, he also mentioned the installation of new video equipment that allows immigration judges to hear some cases remotely.
Mr. Osuna said that after taking into account attrition through the end of FY 2015, EOIR has increased the total number of immigration judges for the first time since FY 2011, and aggressive hiring efforts continue. He noted that a total of 23 new immigration judges have entered on duty since November 2014, and that as of November 15, 2015, the Attorney General had selected another 25 new judges, who are now going through the required background and security checks before they can start hearing cases. Another two dozen immigration judge candidates, he noted, are going through the final stages of the hiring process. Mr. Osuna said that all of these new judges “will greatly assist in reducing the pending caseload when they arrive in immigration courts over the coming months.”