USPS Mail Delays and How they can Negatively Affect Our Immigration System
By: Rachel Horner
Furloughs, a pandemic, and a divisive political climate – it seems the USCIS has navigated through the worst. However, a new obstacle has been thrown their way: USPS mail delays. The USPS has already seen budget cuts and now they must process mail-in ballots for the 2020 election. These mail delays – which have already had a devastating impact across the country –are yet another blow to the USCIS, as they rely on the postal service to deliver paperwork, notices, visas, work authorizations, and naturalization documents to the 47 million immigrants living in the U.S.
Immigration lawyers and USCIS agents alike agree that the USPS is essential to the success of the immigration process. A United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employee, Kenneth Palinkas, stated, “It would be disastrous if they shut down the post office, our work and the USPS go hand in hand.” A New York City-based immigration attorney, Neena Dutta, estimates that 90% of immigration filings are processed through mail, and even applications that are offered online usually must be supplemented by mailed-in documents.
USCIS has faced issues with receiving and sending letters due to the sheer volume of applications they receive — even with a fully functioning USPS. Back in 2003, a USCIS Center in Laguna Niguel, California, was overwhelmed with immigration documents. The manager decided to shred 90,000 documents that included American and foreign passports, applications for asylum, birth certificates and other documents supporting applications for citizenship, visas and work permits.
What happens when a document, such as those described above, is lost in the mail? For one, missing even the least important document can be financially detrimental for a visa applicant. It can add to the costly process — which will become more expensive in October when USCIS begins to increase fees for applications. For example, Heather Prendergast, an immigration attorney based in Cleveland, Ohio, recalls a time when one of her clients was approved for a green card. After waiting several weeks for the necessary documents to come in the mail, Prendergast communicated with the Postmaster the delay in the important documentation. The postmaster then wrote a letter to USCIS confirming that the documents had never been sent to the Prendergast’s client. USCIS responded that the letter was not sufficient evidence and would not re-send the documentation. As a result, the client had to re-apply for their visa, including re-submitting paperwork. The total additional fee was around $1,500. If these problems existed before the USPS had reported delays in mail processing, how will the industry fare in the future?
Mistakes in the USPS delivery process could also cost an immigrant their residency in the United States. An individual looking to obtain their green card must attend a green-card interview. If the USPS fails to deliver that individual their paperwork stating the date of their appointment, whether it be because of backlogs or an overwhelmed postal worker sending it to the wrong address, the individual could miss their appointment and suddenly be informed a few weeks later they have a limited number of days to leave the country.
Voters, applicants waiting to receive news from USCIS, and more, all seem to have their eyes on the USPS, but for now, the future of the nation’s Postal Service remains uncertain.