Many families in the United States live in a frightening limbo when processing delays prevent one family member from becoming a lawful permanent resident.  A lawsuit was recently filed against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of 248 people, and a class of tens of thousands more, to end the delays, which have increased exponentially to about three years.

USCIS has already approved the immigrant petitions for the plaintiffs—all of whom are spouses of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. But plaintiffs and their families cannot move forward until USCIS processes the waiver applications plaintiffs filed at least 12 months ago. USCIS previously decided these applications in under five months.

Plaintiffs can only complete the green card process after a personal interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad and being admitted to the United States on the immigrant visa. But if plaintiffs leave the United States before USCIS approves their waiver application, they would be separated from their families potentially for years. They cannot proceed with their immigrant visa applications while the waiver application remains pending.

While they wait for a decision from USCIS, plaintiffs cannot work lawfully and have no protection against being removed from the United States. As undocumented noncitizens, many cannot drive if their state does not afford undocumented noncitizens a driver’s license. All are suffering emotional and financial harm from the agency’s delay. They cannot make plans for the future with their families because they cannot move forward with the immigration process. They and their families lose economic opportunities because they have no work authorization while their waiver applications languish. And the delays ultimately add additional months and years before they are eligible to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

The agency’s provisional waiver program was supposed to streamline the application process and thus lessen the harm to families—but USCIS’ growing processing time instead inflicts greater harm.

The plaintiffs seek to certify a class of noncitizens who have filed or will file this type of waiver application and whose application has been pending for at least 12 months. For applications filed in the future, the lawsuit asks USCIS to decide the waiver application within six months from the date the application is filed.

The lawsuit was filed in the federal district court for the Western District of Washington by the American Immigration Council and the law firms of Gibbs Houston Pauw, Bless Litigation, Joseph & Hall PC, Kuck Baxter Immigration Partners LLC, and Siskind Susser, PC.

No family should be left in this bureaucratic limbo. Two years into the Biden administration, USCIS needs to be held accountable and ensure that it processes applications without delay.