USCIS Director Gets Ready for Immigration Reform

‘Modernizing Immigration’ – The irony was unavoidable as the title of a foreign press center briefing held in the Capitol yesterday with new USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas.

After all, USCIS is a long-shot from what one would consider a ‘modernized immigration’ system. One only need to look through this great spoof of our immigration processing centers to see how desperately we need modernization of poor USCIS services and practices. It is almost impossible to get a response from them regarding individual case files let alone the ability to file applications online.

Mayorkas was on a public relations blitz and wanted to present the USCIS as a transparent body responsible for serving the public:

What brings me here today is another pillar of importance to the administration of our agency’s work, and that is transparency. We are a public agency. We serve the public. And we, therefore, must be answerable to and responsive to the public.

That is really interesting since the last time we petitioned ICE to stop the deportation of a DREAM Act student, we were told to stop telling them how to do their jobs. Maybe the public nature of USCIS does not extend to answering questions about detention and deportation practices.

Mayorkas did admit that there may be shortcomings in the immigration system with respect to family reunification that should be fixed by immigration reform. While, he skirted around Obama’s lack of progress on overhauling antiquated immigration laws and avoided any discussion about local police enforcement of immigration laws, Mayorkas did confirm the immigration reform will be vigorously pursued:

Q: Zoltan Mikes, World Business Press Online: What do you think about the plan of Mr. Obama of immigration reform? Why is after one year he is in office, not so much in progress?

Mayorkas: With respect to comprehensive immigration reform, the president has indicated that comprehensive immigration reform is a top priority of his and has remained so. He has designated an individual, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, as his point person in that effort. And she shares his commitment and his prioritization of that effort. We have embarked on developing ideas and learning from the public what the public would most want to see in the context of comprehensive immigration reform. And so we are active. The reform process is a legislative one. It is one that the legislature will ultimately accomplish. But the president is quite devoted to the effort, and we are pursuing that vigorously.

The USCIS Director was also quite clear that a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented residents would be part of the necessary reforms and that USCIS is preparing for what that might entail in terms of budgetary requirements:

We are preparing for what comprehensive immigration reform might entail. And our preparatory efforts are the very same efforts that we would undertake to achieve greatest efficiency as an agency. And so we have the ability, for example, to accept certain biometric information of 6 million people in a year in our 140 or so application support centers throughout the country. We are developing a nimbleness that, should we need to address or capture biometrics of a greater-sized population of people, we are able to do so. So our efforts are well under way.

That should answer any concerns from the general public and immigration-restrictionists such as Kris Kobach on whether USCIS can handle the processing ‘a flood of petitions.’ In the past two years, USCIS has reduced service processing times from 12 months to 4.5 months and clearly needs more funding and support from Congress in order to become more efficient.

The entire interview is available here.

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