‘Nation of Immigrants’ Removed From Immigration Agency’s Mission

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By Laura D. Francis

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has removed a reference to the U.S. being a “nation of immigrants” from its mission statement, instead focusing on “protecting Americans” and “securing the homeland.”

“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,” the new mission statement reads.

“I believe this simple, straightforward statement clearly defines the agency’s role in our country’s lawful immigration system and the commitment we have to the American people,” USCIS Director Francis Cissna said in a Feb. 22 statement.

The former USCIS 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.” It had been in place since 2005.

The new mission falls more in line with the Trump administration’s policies and goals with respect to immigration. Since President Donald Trump issued his Buy American and Hire American executive order in April 2017, USCIS has shifted its focus to concentrate more on combating fraud and better protecting the wages and job opportunities of U.S.-born workers.

Immigration Attorneys: Change Is ‘Insidious’

“Removing words in the USCIS mission statement cannot change the proud history of our country whose success is owed to the immigrants who have contributed immensely to our society and have made America home,” American Immigration Lawyers Association President Annaluisa Padilla said in a Feb. 23 statement. “This latest insidious attempt by the Trump administration to diminish the valuable contributions that immigrants have made to our nation and our local communities will not turn Americans away from our most fundamental values,” said Padilla, who practices in La Habra, Calif.

“The agency’s new mission statement was developed and debuted within the agency by USCIS Director Cissna during his first conference with USCIS senior leadership from around the world,” agency officials told Bloomberg Law in a Feb. 23 email. “It reflects the director’s guiding principles for the agency. This includes a focus on fairness, lawfulness and efficiency, protecting American workers, and safeguarding the homeland,” they said.

“The new mission statement now reflects the core responsibilities of the agency, which is to serve the interests of the American public by overseeing and ensuring the integrity of the immigration system and safeguarding the homeland,” the USCIS officials said. “With this mission statement we move away from the transactional language of customer and product. Citizenship, residency and the other benefits of our immigration system are granted only after a rigorous evaluation, not merely by the payment of a fee, or submission of an application.”

The new mission statement is more law enforcement-focused, Michael Knowles, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 119, told Bloomberg Law Feb. 23. To a certain extent, it’s “political rhetoric” because there’s never been a time where there hasn’t been a law enforcement focus at the agency, regardless of the mission statement, said Knowles, whose union represents USCIS employees.

But the idea that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants goes back decades, with presidents from both political parties “championing that whole notion,” he said. Omitting those words from the mission statement, coupled with statements made by President Donald Trump, makes it sound like that idea is now being questioned, Knowles said.

Removal of the concept that those applying for immigration benefits are “customers” isn’t a bad move, however, he said. For years USCIS employees “chafed at the idea of applicants being customers, as if they were buying a product,” Knowles said. Although they should be treated with dignity and respect, “they were always applicants,” he said.

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