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BREAKING NEWS

House Oversight Committee chairman wants answers on legal immigration backlog

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Elijah Cummings
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J. Scott Applewhite AP
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. agency tasked with helping immigrants who've come into the country legally to become citizens may be "failing to fulfill" its most basic duties, according to a letter obtained by NBC News.

In a Feb. 6 letter to Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman Julie Kirchner, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said he's received "troubling reports" that "raise significant questions" about whether Kirchner has "sufficient commitment" to the agency's mission.

According to a committee aide, there's a backlog across the board at CIS, but it may be worse in certain types of cases involving humanitarian issues, like refugee, asylum, and special immigrant visa assistance requests.

Cummings, who is requesting several documents and a briefing for committee staff, cited casework backlogs and failure to meet deadlines for responding to requests for assistance, among other concerns. The chairman also writes that he is concerned Kirchner is not addressing "systemic concerns raised by employees" and is experiencing "high staff turnover" as a result of these challenges.

The information his office has received is "particularly troubling," said Cummings, given Kirchner's past position as executive director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, an anti-immigration nonprofit that says its mission is to "reduce overall immigration."

Though Cummings' request includes any communications related to "prioritizing certain categories of casework over others." It also requests any correspondence with Kirchner's past employer, FAIR, where she served as executive director from 2007 to 2015.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

According to the Homeland Security Act, the ombudsman is tasked with assisting individuals and employers with specific problems dealing with CIS as well as propose administrative changes to ease the process for all.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Trump said he supported immigrants entering the country legally. But in fact, his administration has pushed for policies to make legal immigration and life for legal immigrants harder.

Thousands of immigrants attempting to enter the country by claiming asylum at a legal port of entry are backed up along the Mexico border. The administration has also introduced policies to make it harder for workers to enter the country through the H1B visa lottery. And will soon finalize a rule that restricts access to green cards from immigrants who have used public benefits like food stamps.