Politics: Government Works to Digitize Immigration Records

A decade ago, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services started a project to replace its old paper-based approach to managing immigration with a system of digitized records, online applications, and a full suite of nearly 100 electronic forms. This project, originally supposed to cost a half-billion dollars and be finished in 2013 is now projected to reach up to $3.1 billion and be done four years from now. In this decade all that officials have to show for their effort is a single form that is now available for online applications and a single fee that immigrants can pay electronically; the 94 other forms can only be filed with paper. Originally three of the agency’s immigration forms had been digitized but two of these were taken offline after they debuted because nearly all of the software and hardware from the original system had to be replaced. Records and interviews show that the project was mismanaged from the start, as agency officials did not complete basic plans for the computer system until nearly three years after the initial $500 million contract had been awarded to IBM. The extension of this project challenges the government’s efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies, handle immigrants already seeking citizenship, and detect national security threats. The department has now scrapped the earlier technology and development method and is now adopting a new approach that relies in part on cloud computing.

Contributor: Cai Redmond

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