The Immigration Hackers
Bloomberg Businessweek Middle East|1 January, 2019

An Obama-era department of techies is working to streamline paperwork from inside the Trump administration. Results are mixed.

Lizette Chapman

The Trump administration deployed military forces to block asylum-seekers from crossing the southern U.S. border and is indefinitely detaining more than 14,000 migrant children, so it’s easy to overlook that missing paperwork is quietly threatening the legal status of hundreds of thousands of green card holders. The backlog of legal residents waiting for their renewal forms to be processed topped a record 700,000 at one point last year, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) says that 34 of the 42 forms it handles now take longer to process than they did in 2016. To keep people from being accidentally deported while their renewals were pending, the agency started sending them little rectangular stickers with extended expiration dates to affix to their laminated green cards. When it ran out of stickers, it called Matt Cutts.

Cutts runs the U.S. Digital Service, an executive branch agency created by President Barack Obama to salvage the botched healthcare.gov website and drag the feds into the digital age. He became the USDS’s second administrator on President Trump’s first day, taking over from a former Google colleague. Cutts’s staff of 170, a smattering of them drawn from Silicon Valley’s biggest companies, is credited with saving the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs $100 million by streamlining its cloud computing systems, with editing language on the Veterans Administration’s benefits website to make sure it ranks high in Google searches, and even with building a radio-frequency jammer that disables enemy drones. Now the USDS is undertaking its biggest challenge yet: making immigrants’ lives easier without attracting Trump’s ire.

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