The day before the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the most significant piece of immigration legislation since 1996, the “President of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, the union representing 12,000 United States Citizenship & Immigration Services adjudications officers and staff” sent a letter to Members of the United States Senate in opposition to the immigration reform bill under review in the Senate. Despite claiming to be the “backbone of our nation’s immigration system,” the Union leadership complains that they were not consulted over the proposed immigration reform. Had they been consulted, the union continues, it would have exposed, they claim, the gross politicization and overbearing pressure to approve applications and petitions by individuals who present a danger to the public or a threat to national security. The letter is so full of inaccuracies, half-truths, and overly dramatic claims that the best way to address it is to address each of their points in turn.
“USCIS adjudications officers are pressured to rubber-stamp applications instead of conducting diligent case review and investigation. The culture at USCIS encourages all applications to be approved, discouraging proper investigation into red flags and discouraging the denial of any applications. USCIS has been trued into an “approval machine.”"
No one who spends any time dealing with immigration would recognize this statement. The agency has been criticized repeatedly for encouraging a “culture of no.” This criticism is not limited to the “immigration advocates,” but by businesses throughout the U.S. But let’s not mess with anecdotes. Numbers and facts matter here. A look at CIS’ own statistics for January 2013, shows that approvals went up by 7% and denials went down by 8% from January 2012 to January 2013 for applications other than citizenship. Well, that does seem to bear out an increased approval rate over the course of a year, but, perhaps, not enough to call it an “approval machine,” especially with 2.3 million non-citizenship cases in the pipeline. But that pattern does not hold up in the citizenship context. Between January 2012 and January 2013, approvals of applications for citizenship went up by 13% and denials went up by 54%! Wow, that is a big increase in denials of a serious application. Granted, this is just one month worth of statistics, but that is one month more than the CIS union leadership offered. And whether this trend is sustained over several months, it seems reasonable to state, that CIS has become an approval machine in the last year or so. In addition, the National Foundation for American Policy issued a report last year that concluded that “USCIS adjudicators have demonstrated a capacity to keep skilled foreign workers out of the United States by significantly increasing denials, along with often time-consuming Requests for Evidence, despite no change in law or relevant regulations between 2008 and 2011.” The statistics and experiences of foreign nationals, their families and lawyers who regularly deal with the USCIS, know that the agency is far from rubber-stamping and is closer to a delay, doubt and deny machine than an approval machine.
“USCIS has created an almost insurmountable bureaucracy which often prevents USCIS adjudications officers from contacting and coordinating with ICE agents and officers in cases that should have their involvement. USCIS officers are pressured to approve visa applications for many individuals that ICE has determined should be placed into removal proceedings.”
The union will get no argument that USCIS is an “almost insurmountable bureaucracy,” but coordination with ICE officers does not seem to be a problem. Every immigration lawyer knows that if they take someone with an order of removal into CIS, for benefits that the law entitles them to, that they can expect that ICE will be waiting with handcuffs. In addition, we know of lots of occasions where a person has been arrested and placed into removal proceedings because of information revealed in their applications to USCIS. Many lawful permanent residents who are subject to removal are identified by CIS and ICE because of applications they file with the CIS and not due to excellent detective work by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Finally, the visa applications that the CIS officers “are pressured to approve” for removable individuals are usually family based petitions, which they may use to apply for adjustment of status before the immigration court in removal proceedings. Under the law, a CIS officer has no cause to determine an individual’s removability on an immigrant petition as it is not germane to the petition. All that a CIS adjudicator is supposed to determine in such instances is whether the family relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary exists. What the union seems to be complaining about is that they are being told to follow the law and not bring extraneous matters into their adjudications.
“USCIS officers who identify illegal aliens that , in accordance with the law, should be placed into immigration removal proceedings before a federal judge, are prevented from exercising their authority and responsibility to issue Notices to Appear. In the rare case that an officer attempts to issue an NTA, it must first be approved by a secretive panel created under DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, which often denies the officer’s request. Illegal aliens are then permitted to remain in the United States as USCIS officers are not able to take action or contact ICE agents for assistance.”
It appears that the union is unhappy that some of its members do not have authority to place an individual into removal proceedings. The ability to initiate removal proceedings is an awesome exercise of the state’s law enforcement authority. Not all officers are given that power and that is the way it should be. Many CIS-issued NTAs are often defective and waste the resources of the immigration court and the ICE trial attorneys, to say nothing of the immigrant. It is reasonable for the CIS, whose mission is only secondarily law enforcement, to restrict that authority to the more senior personnel.
“The attitude of the USCIS management is not that the agency serves the American public or the laws of the United States or public safety and national security, but that the agency serves illegal aliens and the attorneys that represent them. While we believe in treating all people with respect, we are concerned that this agency tasked with such a vital security mission is too greatly influenced by special interest groups- to the point that it no longer properly performs its mission.”
If we and our clients are being served, allow us to register some complaints. To enter a CIS office, we have to remove our coats and belts. However, before we even get in, we must line up outside regardless of how hot, wet or frigid it may be. Once we have reassembled our attire, we are directed to another line to demonstrate that we have a legitimate purpose to be in the building. After the individual sitting in the “triage” chair allows us to proceed to the interview room, we turn in the appointment notice and have a seat. Waits of over an hour are not uncommon until an officer appears in the door and shouts out a name. We enter the interview with the client and have been told on more than one occasion that we, the attorneys, are to sit behind the client and not to sit by the client’s side. Sometimes, a supervisor’s intervention is required just to settle seating arrangements. The officer will not have reviewed the file, may not have all the files that they are supposed to have, or not initiated certain background checks. In light of those facts, despite the client’s qualification for the benefit or satisfactory resolution of any outstanding issues, that client may not be approved until the remaining steps, all internal to USCIS, are undertaken. This hardly seems like the service we would expect if CIS viewed their job as serving us and our clients. In fact, the union’s statement makes it fairly clear that the only constituency they have is the welfare and grandiose expectations of the bureaucrats. It is also worth reminding the union that CIS is a fee-based agency, where the fees that immigrants pay, which have gone up significantly over the last five years, pay the salaries of CIS officials. And CIS is a monopoly. Although the CIS now calls our clients “customers,” CIS is a monopoly as clients have nowhere else to turn to obtain U.S. residence. Again, the CIS union exists solely to protect the interests of the CIS employees.
“Currently USCIS reports a 99.5% approval rating for all illegal alien applications for legal status filed under the Obama Administration’s new deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) policies. DHS and USCIS leadership have intentionally established an application process for DACA applicants that bypasses traditional in-person interviews with trained USCIS adjudications officers. These practices were put in place to stop proper screening and enforcement, and guarantees that applications will be rubber-stamped for approval, a practice that virtually guarantees widespread fraud and places public safety at risk.”
This is a highly misleading statistic. As of April 1, 2013, CIS had received 488,782 DACA applications. Of those, about 55% have been decided, for a total of 269,738 decisions on DACA Applications. It is true that of those 269,738, the vast majority, 268,361, have been approved and only 1,377 have been denied. The approval rate of the decided applications is 99.5% But the reality is that it is faster to approve a case than to deny it. Where CIS intends to deny a case, it issues a request for evidence or a notice of intent to deny. That takes time. Cases in which there has been an RFE or NOID are much more likely to be denied as the evidence initially submitted did not demonstrate eligibility. A significant portion of those unadjudicated will result in denials due to lack of eligibility. The CIS union leadership knows this and is being completely disingenuous. Moreover, if the CIS is indeed processing the applications without sufficient review, why do they take so long? We are tempted to think that it is because the CIS officials handling them are not handling them as efficiently as possible.
“While illegal aliens applying for legal status under DACA policies are required to pay fees, DHS and USCIS are now exercising their discretion to waive those fees. Undoubtedly, these practices will be replicated for millions of illegal aliens if S. 744 becomes law.” “US taxpayers are currently tasked with absorbing the cost of over $200 million worth of fee waivers bestowed on applicants for naturalization during the last fiscal year. This is in addition to the strain put on our social security system that has been depleted by an onslaught of refugees receiving SSI benefits as soon as their feet touch U.S. soil.”
Wow. CIS collects, on average about $2.6 billion in fees paid by immigrants, their employers and their families. CIS receives about $100 million in appropriations from Congress. One thing is very clear is that, if anyone is on the hook for the $200 million that the CIS chose not to collect, it is the other immigrants who bill that cost at a rate of 26 to 1. Also, as regards Social Security, something well outside the expertise of the CIS union leadership, most credible studies show that immigrants provide a crucial source of income for the social security system.
“Large swaths of the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) are not effectively enforced for legal immigrants and visaholders, including laws for public charges as well as many other provisions, as USCIS lacks the resources to adequately screen and scrutinize legal immigrants and non-immigrants seeking status adjustment. There is also insufficient screening sand monitoring of student visas.”
It is hard to tell exactly what the union is talking about. OK, let’s talk about public charge. Every immigrant to the U.S. must demonstrate that they have the resources or have access to the financial resources so as not to become a public charge in the U.S. All applications for residence must be accompanied by evidence demonstrating that. That evidence is routinely submitted months in advance of adjudication. It is all in CIS’ files for review. we hope it is being reviewed. The family based affidavit of support is about ten pages long- it is a lot of work to prepare one. We hope that CIS takes the time to review something we have worked so hard on. If CIS is not reviewing public charge information, it is a gross dereliction of duty on the part of individual officers and not indicative of any larger political purpose.
“A new USCIS computer system to screen application known as ‘transformation’ has proven to be a disaster as the agency has spent upwards of $2 billion for a system that would eventually allow an alien- now referred to as a “customer” under current USCIS policy- to upload their own information via the internet for adjudication purposes. To date, only one form can be accepted into the program that has been in the making for close to ten years.”
Yep, “transformation” was a boondoggle. Hopefully, heads will roll about such an egregious waste of money. We can be sure, however, that the union will be there to defend those employees and keep them on the immigrant’s payroll.
It is very disappointing to see the USCIS union parrot the talking points of the rogue ICE union, the restrictions, and the retrograde Senators on the Judiciary committee. However, it is perfectly consistent with CIS’ warped view of reality. What this letter shows is that the union, like their ICE brethren, is willing to resort to half-truths, distortions and outright lies to protect the one constituency that they really care about- the bureaucrats they serve.
The union states that the CIS agents are pressured to “rubber stamp” approvals and that the CIS leadership views “aliens and the attorneys which represent them” as their true constituency. The union also cites a statistic that 99.5% of DACA applications have been approved as evidence of the lax standard of review and the failure of CIS to ensure the integrity of the process.