USCIS Annual Report Lacks Editorial Punch of the Phone Book

By David North on March 15, 2012

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Fiscal Year 2011 Highlights Report has just been released.

I expected it to be self-congratulatory, larded with bureaucratic language, and sprinkled with some half-truths, but also to be a slick, well-written, well-presented document.

Well, skip the last three adjectives. You might compare the USCIS Fiscal Year 2011 Highlights Report to the phone book, but that would be unfair to the telephone directory as the USCIS document lacks any of the graphic flare or utility of the yellow pages.

USCIS has a serious, large-scale job involving millions of people. It is charged with sorting out applications from would-be temporary and permanent migrants to the United States — and deciding which ones are valid and which are not. It also runs the naturalization program. It owes the public a serious, readable, understandable annual report.

They say you can't tell a book by its cover, but I am not sure that's true in this case. The cover of the 2011 report shows either an impressionistic drawing or a blurred photo of someone with a muscular hand holding a small U.S. flag. That's the last visual excitement in the document.

As the covers of DHS documents go, the USCIS one can't hold a candle to that of the 2009 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, which shows a nice color photo of a collection of foreign passports laid out on a map of the American Middle West.

USCIS's principal role is to approve benefit requests from aliens, relatives of aliens, and employers of (often low-wage) aliens, but you would never know it from reading the first of its bold-faced sets of accomplishments: "Strengthen the Immigration System's National Security Safeguards and Combat Fraud"

More typical of the accomplishments listed were these, some of which were genuinely helpful, such as "Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law (UPIL) initiative", good for aliens; "Leadership in biometrics screening"; and "Self Check", good for all of us. The last named is the imaginative system that allows would-be workers to see if the E-Verify program does or does not confirm their legal status in the United States. It does so by allowing the worker to check his or her name against the vast database that is used in E-Verify.

Other more questionable "accomplishments" include these:

  • "Reached Visa Caps. USCIS reached the cap (140,000) for employment-based immigrant visas. In addition, for the second year in a row, it reached the cap for U visas (10,000), which provide relief for victims of crime."

  • "Precedent Decisions Published. In FY 2011, USCIS published two precedent decisions, the first precedent decisions published since 1998. Additionally, USCIS began soliciting amicus curiae briefs relating to appeals, the first pertaining to the denial of a Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for an Alien Worker." (Emphasis in the original in each case.)

The first of these items, reaching the data caps, relates to something that actually happened, but only a devoted mass-migration entity could brag about such matters at a time of enormous unemployment in this country.

The second item relates, though the report does not say so, to USCIS' own, in-house review agency, the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), which is notorious for not publishing precedent decisions (a practice useful to lawyers) and for redacting all sorts of what should be public information, before releasing decisions of any kind. Note, too, that amicus curiae briefs are solicited only in cases in which the alien has lost at the staff level, but never when the alien wins.

The most egregious sentence in the document is the second one in the report: "From advancing national security and preventing fraud, helping create jobs for U.S. workers, and ensuring opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs …"

Replacing hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers with often low-paid, nonimmigrant workers -- such as in the H-1B, H-2A, and H-2B programs -- is what this agency does. It goes out of its way to deny jobs for U.S. workers. As to "opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs", this is a misleading reference to the EB-5 program, which is a program for investors (aliens with $500,000) without any requirement that they actually run a company.

Then moving from its "accomplishments" to more mundane matters, the new USCIS report includes a four-page long list of its regulatory issuances. Here's a sample taken from the text of the report:

  • Approval of Petitions and Applications after the Death of the Qualifying Relative under New Section 204(l) of the Immigration and Nationality Act; Revisions to Adjudicator's Field Manual (AFM): New Chapter 10.21 and an Amendment to Chapter 21.2(h)(1)(C) (AFM Update AD-10-51) 01/07/2011

  • Instructions for Handling Regressed Visa Number (Employment-Based and Family-Based) Adjustment of Status Cases Interviewed at USCIS Field Offices; Revision to Adjudicator's Field Manual (AFM) Chapter 20.1 (e) (AFM Update AD 11-02) 01/11/2011

I have been reading government reports for some time, and I never remember a listing of the agency's top hits in something like the Adjudicator's Field Manual.

The last 10 pages of the document consist of extremely hard-to-follow charts of agency workloads in connection with various petitions. In eight of the 10, following USCIS tradition, there is only data on such bland concepts as petition receipts, approvals, backlogs, and completions. In only two of them are there are notations about denials.

The charts, with their squiggly lines that are not always easy to identify, rarely show much other than a decline in backlogs; they deal with several key USCIS petitions, such as the I-130 for relatives and the I-140 for foreign workers. Since they are charts and not tables with hard numbers (USCIS does not like to publish hard numbers), one has to guess how many petitions were handled in a particular way in a particular month.

My favorite chart is the one for asylum cases. Most of the terms used in the charts are defined on page 14 of the report. In this chart there are five little lines for approvals, denials, referrals, rejections, and revocations; none of the last four actions are defined, and the markings for the concepts of referrals (probably more numerous) and revocations (probably more rare) are indistinguishable in black and white. Further, for the life of me I cannot figure out the difference between "rejection" and "denial".

Appropriately this is the last page of this totally dismal document.

Had Hubert H. "Buck" Humphrey IV, the late Vice President's dynamic grandson not left the top PR post at USCIS, as he understandably and quietly did eight months ago, this report presumably would have been a lot livelier. Young Mr. Humphrey is back in Minnesota, and may be expected to run for public office there in the near future.