The lead story in today’s Washington Post is a breathless piece about how “immigrant paperwork” is “backed-up” at the Department of Homeland Security. The paperwork in question consists of “applications for U.S. citizenship and other benefits” filed by applicants who rushed to beat a filing fee increase that went into effect at the end of July. As a result of the flood of applications, the Post reports, it will take 16 to 18 months to process citizenship applications. Previously, it took about 7 months.
The Post’s story treats this development in its usual “another Bush administration failure” mode. Thus, Spencer Hsu begins his story by stating: “The Department of Homeland Security failed to prepare for a massive influx of applications for U.S. citizenship this summer. . .” Hsu goes on to compare this event to DHS’s “fail[ure] to prepare for tougher border security requirements that triggered month-long delays for millions of Americans seeking pasports.”
I have no reason to doubt that DHS didn’t correctly estimate the number of immigrants who would race to beat this summer’s filing fee hike. What I doubt is whether, had they anticiplated the full extent of the rush, DHS should have moved heaven and earth to make sure it could process applications within the usual time period. Other things being equal, of course, it would better if immigrants didn’t have to wait very long to have their applications for citizenship processed. But there is no particular national interest associated with a waiting period of 7 months as opposed to one double or triple that length. Thus, it’s difficult to understand why substantial resources should be shifted to preserve the “normal” waiting period in the face of an abnormal application rate.
Why, then, did this become the Post’s top story of the day? Because of the November 2008 election. Democrats and hispanic interest groups have a strong interest in seeing immigrants become citizens in time to register to vote in that election, and one suspects that the Washington Post has at least a rooting interest in that outcome. But a partisan interest is not a national interest. It would be unconscionable, of course, for the govenment to delay the processing of applications with a view towards the election, by cutting staff for example. There is nothing problematic, though, about proceeding as fast as can reasonably be expected with the resources normally allocated for this purpose.
To me, the most interesting aspect of this story is the sense of immigrant entitlement that comes through, especially in the quotations from the leaders of hispanic organizations. Even those who favor lots of legal immigration, as I do, should be concerned about the implications of that attitude for the future of our country.
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