COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006--CONTINUED -- (Senate - May 24, 2006)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise to discuss a small amendment that deals with a problem each one of us has heard about in our States--the extremely long backlog at the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
One of the privileges of being a Senator is being able to help constituents. In my State offices, I get thousands of requests from Illinoisans trying to get their VA benefits or clear up a problem with their Social Security check or deal with any number of government bureaucracies. It is great when we can get involved and help folks cut through the redtape. We are helping make government work, one case at a time.
If your office is like mine, a large number of the cases involve immigration. And if your office is like mine, the most common complaint involves FBI name checks. I have only been in office 16 months, but in that time I have received 2,211 requests for assistance on immigration; 426 of these cases, almost 1 in 5 deal with the FBI name check.
One step that legal immigrants have to take to stay in the country lawfully is going through a security check by the FBI. This is a standard procedure, and it is critically important to screen the folks to which we are granting citizenship and permanent residence. Unfortunately, the system is overwhelmed.
The FBI's National Name Check Program is asked to review 62,000 names a week--62,000 a week. In 2005, the FBI was asked to check 3.3 million names, a 20-percent jump from 2001. A great majority of these people are cleared automatically by computer, but for many, FBI agents have to comb through paper records spread across more than 265 sites across the country.
According to a November 2005 GAG report, the FBI background check is one of the top factors beyond the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services' control that contributes to long wait times and an extended backlog. The report found that 11 percent of applications studied took longer than 3 months, and a significant portion of those took much longer. The Department of Homeland Security has taken many steps to try to speed up this process, but unfortunately there are just too many requests being sent to the FBI, and not enough analysts to deal with them.
Many of my constituents have reported waiting as long as 2 years to get cleared by the FBI. These are innocent people who have jumped through every legal hoop we have put in front of them. But because of a bureaucratic mess, they are put in legal limbo.
My amendment isn't overly ambitious. It just gives the FBI a small amount of resources to start tackling this problem. It authorizes $3.125 million a year for the next 5 years to allow FBI to hire additional staff and take other steps to improve the speed and accuracy of the background checks. It also requires the FBI to report back to Congress on the size of the backlog and the steps it is taking to reduce it.
This is a problem we can do something about. And at a time when we are trying to stem the flow of immigrants entering the country illegally, this is a problem we must address. We should not punish the folks who have been responsible and applied to enter the country legally. We should make the system as efficient as possible. I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.
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