Citizenship Delays Caused By Inaccessible Underground Doc Storage Facility
(I wish I was kidding)
With Paperwork Locked Underground, Thousands of U.S. Citizenship Applicants Wait and Wait
Pandemic-fueled restrictions at federal records centers, located in limestone caves, have kept many citizenship applications from being processed
Wall Street Journal
Shawntel Went expected pandemic-related delays when she applied for U.S. citizenship in May 2020. But as months slipped by and friends who had applied for their citizenship after she did were approved, she started to worry.
Finally, earlier this month, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offered Ms. Went an explanation: The paperwork it needed to complete her application was stuck in one of several government storage facilities known as Federal Records Centers. Those centers, miles-long networks of man-made limestone caves built beneath the Kansas City metro area, were largely closed due to Covid-19 and had no immediate plans to reopen.
Without that paperwork, which contains Ms. Went’s complete immigration history since she moved to the U.S. from Barbados in 2011, the citizenship agency can’t approve her application.
The government, she said, told her there was no solution. “They don’t want to open the office to go and get it,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Ms. Went isn’t the only one in bureaucratic limbo. As of this month, more than 350,000 requests for immigration histories were pending with the National Archives and Records Administration, which oversees the Federal Records Centers in Kansas City, though not all of those requests were for pending citizenship applications.
In a statement, USCIS acknowledged that a backlog of file requests had occurred because of operating restrictions at the records centers, and said “the agency is in constant communication with NARA to assist them in whatever way is needed, including offering USCIS staff to assist in procuring files.”
The situation has started attracting the attention of some lawmakers, including Rep. Ted Budd (R., N.C.), who wrote a letter to the White House last month asking the administration to reopen the Federal Records Centers at full capacity after he received nine reports of stranded citizenship applications from his North Carolina district.
“My overriding question is, what is their plan to get back to normal operations, because this is not normal,” Mr. Budd said in an interview. “Most people have found a way to come back to work by now.”