DHS Secretary Mayorkas’s Keynote at AILA Annual Conference16 Jun 2021
Alejandra Mayorkas, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was the opening keynote speaker at the AILA Annual Conference on Thursday, June 10, 2021, held virtually. He is the first Latino and immigrant Secretary of the DHS. He shared some updates, including the change in policy and rhetoric at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). AILA’s Executive Director Benjamin Johnson introduced Mr. Mayorkas and engaged in the discussion with him.
Change in Terminology and Engaging More Lawyers for USCIS
Mr. Mayorkas mentioned that the DHS will stop using terms like “illegal alien” to depict a person who may have violated the law since a person is not illegal. Instead of using the term “undocumented” as has been used in the past, Mr. Mayorkas said that DHS will start to use the term “noncitizen” to respect the person. Although the change may not seem monumental, because words matter, this does represent a shift in policy.
Mr. Mayorkas explained that it is not fair for an attorney to call and speak with a USCIS Customer Service representative who is most often a non-attorney unable to fully comprehend U.S. immigration laws. Mr. Mayorkas expects more attorneys to be engaged by the USCIS, who will speak with immigration lawyers on pending cases before issuing RFEs asking additional evidence. That way, the government’s lawyer can call to speak with the immigration lawyer engaged by the employer or employee or individual to ask for certain information or documentation. This is a brand-new approach and something that we have never seen in dealing with the USCIS.
Addressing USCIS Backlogs
The USCIS backlog of cases is something Mr. Mayorkas recognizes as a significant problem. Mr. Mayorkas said that he is approaching this matter delicately, as the USCIS was “gutted” -having been largely defunded and saddled with burdensome barriers via policy and procedures over the prior four years of the Trump administration. Hence, the USCIS needs to hire 3,000 people to get started. Ben Johnson pushed back, saying that the USCIS cannot keep increasing fees while the quality of services either declines or remains stagnant, at best. Mr. Mayorkas agreed that Congressional appropriation of funds for the USCIS should work with increased filing fees.
COVID-19 Travel and Visa Restrictions
An important question posed was whether it makes sense to prevent H1B or L-1 workers or their family members from entering the United States based on COVID-19 restrictions. Mr. Mayorkas explained that our borders are closed between Canada, most European countries, Brazil, China, India, and other countries mainly, if not purely, for public health reasons as the goal is to protect Americans. He said he understands the economic impact and the decision of the Biden Administration is based on science and data.
Mr. Mayorkas explained that he appreciates AILA’s “healthy skepticism” of USCIS policies as that is the proper role of AILA. We at the Murthy Law Firm look forward to the continued partnership with the DHS, USCIS, and other federal agencies to embrace and recognize that the United States of America is a nation of immigrants.
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