Everyone was well-dressed, well-spoken, and quite polite, and there were no cheerleaders or brass bands in sight, but Monday's event at the Georgetown University Law School was clearly a pep rally for the more-migration forces.
A few bits and pieces of immigration-related news and insights emerged but there was no disagreement on immigration issues on display at the 9th Annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference; the event is sponsored each year by the non-sectarian Migration Policy Institute, a deeply-funded, D.C.-based think tank; the Center for Migration Studies, a small Catholic pro-migration think tank on Staten Island; and the nationwide Catholic Legal Immigration Network, or CLINIC, which provides legal services for migrants, legal and illegal. It looked as if several hundred people attended.
Much of the conversation was about the president's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, its complications, its operations, and its predicted political impact on the elections next month (useful to the president, in their assessment).
There were two keynote speakers: Tom Perez, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, in the morning, and Alejandro Mayorkas, head of USCIS, in the afternoon; both attorneys, both Democratic political appointees. Perez gave a cheerful stem-winder of a speech on what he and the rest of the administration had done for civil rights in the last four years, and he took no questions.
Mayorkas was less intense, had a brief opening statement and then answered a series of soft questions put to him by CLINIC director Charles Wheeler, and then took questions from the floor. I sought more information on the breakdown of "completions" in the DACA program – how many of these were approvals and how many were denials? Also, how often USCIS had actually interviewed someone in a questionable case?
Mayorkas offered no numbers, on any of these variables but did volunteer that USCIS was interviewing a random sample of DACA "requesters" for "quality control purposes".
He said that a number of applications were sent back from the "lock box", the mail-handling operation, for lack of signatures or lack of checks. These are not counted as rejections, and the applicants are free to file again.
He did not mention that JPMorgan, the Wall Street firm, has a multi-million dollar contract to open mail for USCIS at the lock boxes. JPMorgan handles all USCIS mail operations, not just those involved in DACA.
A burly priest from Raleigh, N.C., said that his organization had forwarded 207 DACA application packages but said that some had come back because the money orders enclosed, though for the right total amount of money, did not match the separate fees for the two applications, one for fingerprints, and the other for the substantive application. Mayorkas was puzzled, and said he would talk to the priest later.
Mayorkas also told of one DACA applicant who took the government's desire for proof of his illegal presence so seriously that he showed up with two file drawers of documentation.
Though some immigration lawyers pressed Mayorkas, very gently, on some aspects of the DACA program, and he made soothing answers, it was more of a pep rally than a substantive conference.