Director Rodriquez Testifies on USCIS Efforts for Improvements02 Sep 2014
On July 29, 2014, in his first appearance before Congress since becoming Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Leon Rodriguez provided testimony on broad range of issues. Having led the USCIS for less than a month, Director Rodriguez set a positive tone, pledging to ensure that his agency delivers appropriate benefits to the right people.
Outreach: Online Improvements, Citizenship Promotion, and Public Engagement
Director Rodriguez reviewed some USCIS plans to improve services through informational and outreach efforts. He noted steps have been taken to improve the USCIS WebSite, including the addition of various web-based tools and better online case status information.
The director also pointed to two key public outreach efforts. The first is to promote citizenship for eligible individuals. The USCIS estimates that some 8.8 million permanent residents of the United States potentially are eligible to naturalize. To encourage green card holders to consider applying for citizenship, the USCIS is coordinating with the cities of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Nashville to assist in getting out information on naturalization, often through public libraries. Since most citizenship applicants must demonstrate English language proficiency and knowledge of U.S. history and civics, the USCIS has established a grant program to help permanent residents prepare for the tests and a training program for educators and volunteers.
The second outreach initiative entails the USCIS actively soliciting the public for information and input through the Office of Public Engagement. This office holds collaboration sessions with the immigrant community and other stakeholders, allowing for the inclusion of interested individuals and groups in matters of USCIS policy and procedure. These also serve to keep the public informed.
Consistency Between USCIS Offices and Adjudicators
Per Director Rodriguez, the USCIS is continually reviewing the agency’s policies and operational guidelines, in an effort to achieve uniformity at the offices and between adjudicators. This appears to be a continuation of a process initiated in 2010, and described in the MurthyDotCom NewsBrief, USCIS Policy Review Process: First Ten Priorities Named (06.Aug.2010).
Workload Management to Avoid Backlogs
The USCIS faces challenges in workload management, particularly when there is a new program or sudden increase in the volume of filings. The most recent challenge noted by Director Rodriguez involved the long processing time of I-130 family petitions filed by U.S. citizens on behalf of their immediate relatives (spouses, minor child/ren, and parent/s.) In an effort to address backlogs in the adjudication of these petitions, the USCIS shifted work within the agency to better use existing resources. The result has been a reduction in USCIS processing time of these I-130 cases, so that most are adjudicated within the agency’s stated five-month goal. Director Rodriguez assured Congress that the agency will continue to monitor receipt and adjudication rates, and properly allocate resources to avoid such backlogs in the future.
Increase in Anti-Fraud Measures
The USCIS Director used the word robust to describe the USCIS programs and procedures for detecting immigration fraud, as well as national security and safety risks. These are led by the agency’s Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS). The FDNS was established over ten years ago and has officers in every USCIS field office, service center, and asylum office in the United States, as well as in three overseas locations.
The FDNS is responsible for the Administrative Site Visit and Verification Program (ASVVP) described in the MurthyDotCom NewsBrief, FDNS Releases 2013 Memorandum on H1B Fraud Detection (09.Jan.2014). The FDNS also works closely with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to conduct the biographic and biometric background checks used by the USCIS, and shares immigration-related intelligence with other parts of the U.S. government. The FDNS also is furthering an integrity management process for immigration applications that, in some way, are connected to large-scale fraud prosecutions. This likely includes such actions as the revocation of such approvals.
Southwest Border Challenge and Identifying Refugees and Victims of Torture
Of course, the new director discussed the challenges related to the influx of undocumented foreign nationals at the Southwest border of the United States. The role of the USCIS in such matters is connected to identifying potential refugees and victims of torture. The USCIS coordinates with other agencies that also fall under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in the “credible fear” screening process, which is used to evaluate claims for asylum in certain types of cases, including the vast majority of those made at the border. The increase in such cases has necessitated hiring new USCIS asylum officers and deployment of officers to key detention centers. While this has improved the process of assessing credible fear at the border, a processing backlog elsewhere within the asylum system has been created. Further hiring is underway to address that problem.
Transformation to Centralized Electronic Processing
Transformation is the USCIS program to move from a paper-based system to a centralized, electronic processing environment. Fraught with problems this program underwent significant changes after review by the Office of Management and Budget in 2012. The USCIS ELIS program for online filings is a key component of the transformation process. The new Director expects the program to be completed by fiscal year 2018 or 2019.
Director Rodriguez expressed his commitment to improving service and processing times, and overcoming key challenges faced by the USCIS. MurthyDotCom will continue to monitor the progress made by this agency, and will report any developments to our readers.
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