Almost a year after crowdsourcing ideas from career staff, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has unveiled a new mission statement that scraps “safeguarding [the] integrity” of adjudicating legal immigration benefits and “protecting Americans” as key pillars of the agency. For reasons I will explain below, it is doubtful that the Biden political appointees took into consideration any feedback from the career staff responsible for adjudicating benefits and screening and vetting.
The USCIS mission statement became an unexpected (and unnecessary) political hotbed in 2018 when then-Director Francis Cissna completely overhauled the statement. That mission statement read:
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.
As Director Cissna told staff at the time of unveiling the new mission statement, “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.”
The outrage that ensued from advocates of unlimited immigration centered around the absence of the factually incorrect “nation of immigrants” phrase contained in the pre-Trump administration mission statement. As framed by their allies in the media, it was presented as if those three words were struck and all else remained the same. Of course, that is not what happened and Director Cissna started from scratch, not using an editorial eye to delete specific words or phrases from existing text.
Thus, changing the 2018 USCIS mission statement became a top priority of Biden’s political team despite the fact that the agency is financially fragile and has historic backlogs on numerous immigration benefits. After working on this for more than 10 months, the new mission statement reads, “USCIS upholds America’s promise as a nation of welcome and possibility with fairness, integrity, and respect for all we serve.”
The immediate observation is that “nation of immigrants” is nowhere to be found in this 20-word statement. Apparently, that phrase isn’t gospel after all to the critics of immigration limits. In its place is “nation of welcome and possibility”, which seems to imply that eligibility criteria are immaterial. This interpretation is bolstered by the concluding phrase “all we serve”, which is a nod to the “customer service” ideology from the Obama administration. If the “customer is always right”, in this context it means the alien always gets the immigration benefit. Based on the policies of the Biden administration thus far, the mission statement’s final clause can be translated as “and rubberstamping approvals for all who apply”.
Driven by a desire to appease the advocates of unlimited immigration, the new mission statement fails to explain the agency’s statutory directive. By comparison, the 2018 mission statement succinctly explained that USCIS “administers the nation’s lawful immigration system” and synching to the Department of Homeland Security’s mission statement concluded with “protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.”
The American people are supposed to be the primary stakeholder in the immigration system, but the Biden administration has sent a clear message that “protecting Americans” is not part of the consideration of immigration policy development.