** Note, since this piece was originally posted, news outlets are reporting that the USCIS mission statement is in fact being altered by the Trump administration; more information is available here: https://theintercept.com/2018/02/22/u-s-citizenship-and-immigration-services-will-remove-nation-of-immigrants-from-mission-statement/ **
I recently read an article about proposed reforms spearheaded by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that contained this quote from an agency spokesperson:
“USCIS is focused on ensuring the integrity of the immigration system and protecting the interests of U.S. workers, and is committed to reforming employment based immigration programs so they benefit the American people to the greatest extent possible.”
While protecting the interests of American workers should certainly be a principal focus of the federal government, this statement made me scratch my head. I went to the USCIS website and found the following mission statement:
“USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.”
Curious, I then moved on to review the Department of Labor’s official mission statement:
“To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.”
Under this administration, USCIS has been transformed from an agency with a mission to provide services to immigrants (“our customers”) into one designed to undermine the very system it is charged with operating – all in the alleged interest of the U.S. worker. This “mission creep” also effectively usurps the role of the Department of Labor – the agency actually dedicated to protecting the American labor force.
And we’re seeing the impact. Since the installation of the new administration, USCIS has weaponized bureaucratic inefficiency: Requests for additional evidence – the ubiquitous RFE – are on the rise, forcing applicants to pile more and more paper documentation into each benefits request. Processing delays are getting worse, with critical benefits such as Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) taking six months or longer to adjudicate. Cumbersome, confusing interviews are now required for certain benefits, such as employment-based green cards, where they have not been required previously. And technical glitches plague online tools making it difficult for individuals to get an accurate check on the status of their case.
Under previous administrations, USCIS had its quirks, absolutely. Mysterious adjudication trends didn’t always align with changes in the law, and sometimes new policy guidance and procedures created extra hoops to jump through and inevitable delays. But as someone who has worked in the field of immigration law since the inception of USCIS in 2003, I have never seen USCIS so systematically and purposefully abandon its customer service-oriented mission like I have seen recently. Huge damage has been done. Individuals who have faced obfuscation, confusion, endless delays and the unpredictability of our current system will urge the next generation of immigrants to stay away. And based on the proposals being put forward by the administration on legal immigration, it’s pretty obvious that’s exactly what they want, but that’s not what’s best for America. And what’s best for America, for our shared prosperity, is something worth fighting for.