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Catherine Cortez Masto, left, (D-Nev.) and Congresswoman Jacky Rosen, candidate for U.S. Senate, head to vote at Cardenas Market in east Las Vegas on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (Jeff Scheid-Nevada Independent)

This story has been edited for brevity and clarity and translated from Spanish.

Nevada’s U.S. senators are expressing concern about processing delays that are hurting people applying to change or renew their immigration status.

In a letter in late May to L. Francis Cissna, head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen said that waiting times at local offices have exceeded an acceptable length.

The legislators said in their letter that at the USCIS offices in Las Vegas and Reno, the average processing time for residency applications (so-called “I-485 petitions”) — commonly known as green cards — is between 11 and 27 months, or up to twice as long as the national average wait time. 

In the case of applications for naturalization (so-called “N-400 petitions”) in both offices, processing may take from 10 to 20 months, which is up to twice the average waiting time in the country, according to the senators.

“In Nevada, one in five residents is an immigrant. As workers, taxpayers, and business owners, immigrants are an invaluable part of Nevada’s diverse and thriving communities,” both senators wrote. “These delays affect the social and economic welfare of all of our residents.”

Both lawmakers are seeking answers as to what measures the immigration agency will take to resolve the issue. They also asked for answers about what petitions the offices of Reno and Nevada receive most frequently, as well as information on wait times and what measures are being taken to address delays and so the Information Services Modernization Program is accessible to those who do not speak English.

USCIS spokesman Jessica Collins said in an email that pending naturalization cases increased during the Obama administration. There were nearly 700,000 in January of 2017, more than twice the 291,800 pending cases in September of 2010.

During the 2018 fiscal year, USCIS approved the most naturalization requests since the 2013 fiscal year. The current approval rate is within 1 percent of the average since 2013; while the average approval rate for the 2013-2017 period is almost 91 percent, Collins said.

She added that USCIS has implemented reforms that include hiring more staff and expanding their offices in order to handle the volume of petitions.

Collins also indicated that part of the effort to reduce the delays included realigning regional, district and national offices by October 2019. That reshuffling has not been done since 2006 and is driving an imbalance in the workload and distribution of the personnel.

“The truth is that while many factors relating to an individual’s case can affect processing times, waits are often due to higher application rates rather than slow processing,” Collins said. “Where possible, cases are completed well within the agency’s standard processing goals. USCIS strives to adjudicate all applications, petitions, and requests as effectively and efficiently as possible in accordance with all applicable laws, policies, and regulations.”

Senators Cortez Masto and Rosen to USCIS Re Processing Delays 5.23.19 (1) by Luz Gray on Scribd

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