USCIS Is No Longer Serving Its Original Mission, Says Former USCIS Director

León Rodríguez served as the director of US Customs & Immigration Services from 2014 to 2017, holding the reins in the transition between the Obama and Trump administrations. He recently wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post that asserts that since his fairly recent time as director, the path to legal immigration has gotten more difficult as a direct result of new policies.

Those changes began, as they often do, with a small change. After Rodríguez left his post, the new administration made edits to the USCIS mission statement in February 2018. The old mission statement read:

"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."

The edits get rid of the reference to migrants as "customers" and erases the reference to "America's promise." The new mission statement now says:

"U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation's lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values."

Rodríguez points out that the customers the USCIS was designed to serve often pay a great deal of money to have their applications adjudicated, but many of them are still waiting months longer than they were years ago; the refocus from customer service to "safeguarding" was an early indication of the Trump administration's restrictive policies.

Our blog has previously reported on the growing backlog of immigration cases, a condition that has grown to "crisis levels," according to experts. The House Judiciary Committee recently convened to explore the causes and effects of such a backlog. The President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association testified that the average processing time for a USCIS case jumped 46 percent between 2016 and 2018. Rodríguez doesn't entirely blame the new administration's policies—"[delays] stem from a variety of factors, many inherent in the agency's processes and budget development model," he says—but processing times have gotten much worse since 2017. The fact that the number of applications has gotten smaller and the USCIS budget has gotten larger indicates that real policy decisions are at fault here.

These policies include:

  • Requesting additional evidence on 3x more H-1B applications than 2016
  • Requiring in-person interviews for every employer-sponsored green card applicant
  • Moving $200 million in USCIS applicant fees to fund ICE

USCIS officials testified under oath that their budget constraints made hiring new staff impossible. The same week that the USCIS leaders testified about the backlog being due to lack of personnel and resources, the agency asked its staff to volunteer their time to do administrative work for ICE. Recently, the White House proposed using the money from USCIS to fund hiring and training ICE enforcement officers. None of these things indicates a lack of resources; what it indicates is a deliberate shift from processing immigration applications to making the immigration process more hostile. 

Here's what Rodríguez had to say about the growing closeness between USCIS and ICE:

"I am no ICE abolitionist. Smart enforcement of immigration laws protects the safety and security of the nation. But by congressional design, USCIS is not ICE, nor is it subordinate to it. That separation of functions is precisely what positions USCIS to act as the service-oriented gateway through which vital international talent and enterprise reach the United States, through which U.S. citizens reunite with loved ones from abroad — through which we can advance our national security interests by administering humanitarian programs that distinguish the United States as a beacon of freedom."

If you're stuck in the USCIS application process or facing deportation from ICE, our New Jersey immigration law firm is equipped to help. We've served thousands of people throughout New Jersey, helping them get visas, green cards, and citizenship with our counsel and representation. Speak with The Law Offices of Lloyd E. Bennett Esq., P.C. as soon as possible to learn about your legal options today.

Talk to Attorney Lloyd Bennett and his team to find a solution for your immigration situation. Se Habla Español. Call (800) 909-8129!