IRVING, Texas (AP) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services must prepare for the challenge an immigration reform plan would pose, the agency's current leader said Wednesday.

During the opening of a new sprawling USCIS district office in the Dallas suburb of Irving, acting deputy director Michael Aytes pointed out such facilities are among the improvements the agency can make to get ready for additional workload if lawmakers reform immigration policies.

"Every day that goes by is a day that we lose if were not doing something to better position ourselves for that reality when it happens," Aytes said.

USCIS staffers are already trying to work through a backlog of applications of people seeking citizenship, green cards and other services.

In the North Texas district, applications for naturalization are 2 months behind than the desired goal of five months to process. Petitions to become a legal permanent resident, or green card holder, are behind four to five months, officials said.

While the agency has to focus on the current tasks and customers, it also must continue to invest in building new facilities, develop better case management systems and improve how services are delivered, Aytes said.

"All of those things we'll help us to better prepare for whatever challenge we're asked to accept," he said.

President Barack Obama has said he is committed to comprehensive immigration reform. Latino lawmakers and advocates continue pushing for changes in U.S. immigration policy, including proposals to create a path for citizenship for the estimated 12 million immigrants in the nation illegally.

Aytes was named to his current position in April 2008, under the previous administration.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.