Part 2: The other kind of immigration reform

It took a little longer than I expected, but here’s part 2 to the rant I began on immigration earlier in the week. First, though, a little aside about another faulty claim my debate team made:

I know that we said this mostly in jest, but a water free toilet is NOT a waste of money. In fact, I’ve come to believe it may be one of the most important technological breakthroughs in the 21st century. Imagine all the water we could save if every flush was waterless. If we can efficiently and cleanly remove waste without utilizing precious fresh water, we could go a long way in reducing water shortages and save the stuff for the really important things: drinking, cooking, cleaning.

Now back to the main topic of conversation. Last time I whined a lot about flaws in the system but what about solutions? Obviously I don’t have all the answers and I think it will always be an imperfect process. However, the system can be improved. For those who wonder how a massive nationwide selection process can possibly be efficient, I point to the college application process. Each year, American colleges and universities receive millions of applications from across the country and all over the world. Boston College alone got nearly 30,000 applications last year. Applicants come from a variety of backgrounds with various credentials. Yet somehow they still manage to read all these applications and make their decisions in about 4 months for just $70 per application. Compare that to an average of 9 months for $675. Yeah I think the USCIS has some work to do. Here are some specific changes I can see:

The easiest step would be to allow electronic filing the way most colleges allow. Right now, the USCIS lets you fill out your forms online but you must print it out and mail it in. It should take next to no effort on their part to allow electronic filing. Such an option would save paper and allow for easier transfers between different offices. Cloud computing is the way of the future. Why does the government continuously insist on operating in the pre-electronic era?

The government can also use its website to help applicants answer questions and track their progress. Whenever I log onto Bank of America, a chat window is always popping up for me to speak with a customer service representative. I understand this may be a little much for the government, but at least give us an email address! Right now a 1800 number and mail are the only ways to get in touch with them. Additionally, the USCIS should allow occasional online tracking to see where your application is and what the approximate time frames are. If I can track my pizza order online, why not my naturalization application? Currently the USCIS home pages says a redesign is coming soon. I hope there are substantial improvements and not just a new logo and color scheme.

Another idea would be to remedy the pathetic excuse for a test currently given to naturalization applicants. I agree new citizens should be required to have some knowledge of English and civics, but this is a joke for people like me who have grown up here. How about this: let’s create some kind of exemption for people like myself who have gone through the American education system and graduated with a high school diploma. These tests are a joke and any high school graduate should be able to pass it without trouble. That is unless the American education system isn’t preparing kids sufficiently in civics or heaven forbid English to pass these tests. Then I would say there’s a bigger problem at stake.

The actual swearing in process could be better too. The ceremony is nice and I realize you want to make it a special moment. However, given the backlog in getting ceremonies scheduled and the urgency of some people’s schedules, the government should allow an express option. Just like there’s a legal and traditional ceremony to a wedding, there should likewise be two components to the swearing in process. The legal part should be a quick, no frills process that legally makes you a citizen. The traditional ceremony, with the dressing up and music should be optional for those who want a fancy photo op. This way, people on tight schedules can become citizens without having to wait long periods of time or sit through a drawn out ceremony.

Reform on this topic should be easy to pass. We are, after all, talking about honest, legitimate immigrants who have already been screened and most likely have something valuable to contribute to society. Sadly, this type of reform will probably not happen because there is little political urgency. Legal immigrants will become citizens sooner or later. Immigrants do not have the right to vote and unlike illegal immigration, there’s little glory in taking a strong position. I only hope one day our politicians wake up and start doing the right thing.

Despite everything I’ve said in the past 2 posts, the U.S. government is not the most inefficient I have had to deal with recently. That distinction goes to the British. Since I am going to London for a full year, I have to get a student visa. The UK has three offices in the U.S. that process visa applications in New York City, Chicago, and LA. Each office handles a certain region. Guess what region PA belongs to? Not New York, not Chicago, but LA! Instead of taking a 2 hour bus ride to New York to get everything done in person, I had to mail my application to LA. As of this writing I’m still waiting for a response!

Look, I know you guys never made it out to California when you ruled the U.S., but come on! Look at a map! It makes absolutely no logical sense!