If there is any legislative move on a version of the DREAM Act, a possibility Mark Krikorian discussed in a recent blog, we should insist on at least this one minimal requirement: every applicant must be interviewed, in person, by a USCIS officer — not by a consultant or by contract staff.
While the officer's decision might be subject to supervisory review, the original recommendation should carry substantial weight in the overall determination of the case.
That is not now the case. A random sample of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applicants are interviewed as a quality-control measure. But the vast majority simply cobble together applications, which are then checked against various computerized databases until someone in a remote location looks at them and decides in a vacuum whether or not an applicant is eligible — and that's it.
The opportunities for fraud are substantial with any benefit-granting process, and the current application procedure for DACA widens those opportunities. The alien applicant is supposed to have been under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, (and at least 15 at the time of filing) and there is currently no system in place to make sure that people visibly over or under that age range are rejected. Nor is there any verbal interchange between the applicant and a USCIS official who might notice, for instance, that an alien claiming four years of U.S. education can barely speak English.
The absence of an interview does at least four things that are desired by the Obama administration: 1) it saves money, which allows the program to go ahead at the current bargain rate of $465 per application; 2) it speeds up the benefit-granting process; 3) it avoids the necessity for anyone to ask any awkward, face-to-face questions; and 4) it guarantees a rock-bottom denial rate. That the lack of an interview invites fraud apparently does not matter.
The whole question of denials is carefully ignored whenever USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas discusses the program, as we pointed out in a recent blog. The agency has announced that 308,935 applications were received by November 15 and that 10,101 had been returned as incomplete by that date, but not denied. Mayorkas did not acknowledge that a single one had actually been denied. Interesting odds.
If Congress acts on anything like the DACA program it should make sure that, in the future at least, every applicant is interviewed by an agency officer, that the officer has complete access to the underlying data, that the officer has sufficient time to examine the applicant and the application, and that the agency fee is set high enough to allow these things to be funded.
There were routine interviews of IRCA legalization applicants in field offices around the nation during the late 1980s. The interviewing staff recommend denial or approval or suggested further review of the case. Apparently there were thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of staff-level denial recommendations that were ignored when final decisions were made at what then were the regional centers of the old Immigration and Naturalization Service. I found this to be particularly true when, for the Ford Foundation, I reviewed the farm worker or SAWS program, where the fraud was concentrated.
So interviews do not guarantee 100 percent correct decision-making, but they can help both in the process of deciding and in discouraging some potential applicants with bad applications from submitting them in the first place.
The interviews are a must in any new legislation for the childhood arrivals.