Conveying voter concerns, Maryland’s full congressional delegation calls for an end to troubling issues with routine immigration services in Baltimore

October 21, 2022

“These delays have real and devastating consequences on the lives of individuals, families and employers in Maryland.”

US Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and Congressmen Steny Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Andy Harris, Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin and David Trone Thursday wrote to Baltimore District Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Greg Collett urging him to address trends regarding routine service delivery at the USCIS Baltimore field office. The lack of responsiveness from the USCIS field office in Baltimore “frustrates our constituents and leaves them with an overwhelming lack of information about decisions that are fundamental to their livelihoods,” said the delegation.

“We recognize that the past few years have been particularly challenging for USCIS nationwide,” the delegation wrote to Collett. However, there are “significant delays in the processing of many immigration benefits granted by the USCIS Baltimore field office, such as family-based, employment-based, and asylum-based I-485 applications, I-130 petitions and I-751 petitions…public data suggests that the USCIS Baltimore field office processing times lag significantly behind most other field offices across the country. “

“These delays have real and devastating consequences on the lives of individuals, families and employers in Maryland. Delayed processing times negatively impact the employment and financial well-being of our constituents. Marylanders are routinely denied promotions, transfers, or growth opportunities because they haven’t yet received the benefits they applied for. Delays create financial and emotional stress for applicants’ families and communities.

Lawmakers are urging the Baltimore District Manager to improve services and communication with the public and Congress.

The full letter to USCIS Baltimore follows and can be found at this link and lower.

Dear Director Collett,

As members of the Maryland Congressional Delegation, we are writing to you in your capacity as District Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Field Office in Baltimore (USCIS Baltimore Field Office) regarding the average service times and responsiveness of the office. Declines on both fronts in recent years are negatively affecting the people of Maryland, and we are concerned that processing times for essential services provided by the office are lagging behind other comparable field offices across the country. We are committed to understanding the issues facing the USCIS Baltimore Field Office and working with you to better assist the voters we serve.

We recognize that the past few years have been particularly challenging for USCIS nationwide. The agency has had to deal with considerable changes in policies and priorities while coping with the implications of COVID-19 and managing the increase in the number of applications received and humanitarian needs. During town hall meetings and congressional briefings, the agency cited staffing and attrition as a major challenge. We appreciate that USCIS Director Ur Jaddou has made it a priority to reduce application processing times and backlogs.

There are significant delays in the processing of many immigration benefits granted by the USCIS Field Office in Baltimore, such as I-485 Family-Based, Employment, and Asylum Petitions, I -130 and I-751 requests. We commend USCIS’ efforts to redistribute the I-485 workload nationwide among field offices to create more uniform processing times for employment-based I-485 applications. However, public data suggests that USCIS field office processing times in Baltimore lag significantly behind most other field offices across the country. Despite the aforementioned progress on employment-based I-485s, the USCIS Baltimore Field Office is currently processing most of these requests in 31.5 months, compared to 20 months in the Chicago field office and 19.5 months in the Los Angeles field offices. Additionally, the processing time for family I-485s is 34.5 months, compared to 15.5 months in Chicago and 18.5 months in Los Angeles.

These delays have real and devastating consequences on the lives of individuals, families and employers in Maryland. Delayed processing times negatively impact the employment and financial well-being of our constituents. Marylanders are routinely denied promotions, transfers, or growth opportunities because they haven’t yet received the benefits they applied for. Delays create financial and emotional stress for applicants’ families and communities.

A related concern is the deteriorating responsiveness of the USCIS Baltimore field office to our constituents and their advocates. This trend predated the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has certainly increased over this time. Responses to voters and their advocates are coming more slowly, if at all. Where provided, answers are generic and do not substantially address the situation presented. We are particularly concerned about responsiveness to emergencies. Our offices are often contacted by constituents facing life-threatening emergencies and requiring immediate travel authorization. These voters contact the USCIS National Call Center and are asked to wait for a phone call from the local field office; a call they never receive.

These conditions have caused an increasing number of applicants to seek assistance from our congressional staff, who themselves report decreased responsiveness from the USCIS Baltimore field office. Congressional staff often have to contact agency staff by phone to discuss sensitive cases or urgent matters, but their calls are often unanswered or returned. Additionally, USCIS field office staff in Baltimore previously provided a substantial and unique explanation of the reasons for delays when a case exceeded normal processing times. This information helped provide context to voters, help them understand the status of their application(s), and alleviate concerns, follow-up questions, and repeat inquiries on the same topic. However, our staff now often only receives a generic or formal response in such cases. This lack of meaningful engagement frustrates our constituents and leaves them with an overwhelming lack of information about the decisions that are fundamental to their livelihoods. It also limits the ability of our staff to fulfill their important role of prioritizing cases, identifying procedural errors and educating the public about their rights under our laws and regulations.

As a congressional delegation from Maryland, we appreciate our long history of working with your office to better serve our constituents. We look forward to working together to reverse recent trends. To that end, we respectfully request that the USCIS Baltimore Field Office implement the steps below. We ask that you respond in writing to the following questions and requests by November 21, 2022.

  1. What issues, besides staffing, are causing these delays? What if congressional action is needed to fix it?
  1. Develop and share a clear and specific plan to improve processing times at least at the field office level in comparable metro centers. Please address specific plans for all types of I-485, I-130 and I-751 applications.
  1. Schedule quarterly Congressional meetings with USCIS Baltimore field office leadership.
  1. Ensure the existence of a dedicated telephone line for Congress staff for urgent and sensitive questions that provides answers within 24 to 48 hours. Such a line is available at most other USCIS field offices and service centers.

Sincerely,


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