USCIS Holds Pep Rally in a Glorious Building

By David North on June 27, 2012

Had the session been on a college campus you might call it a combination pep rally/bestowal of an honorary degree/lecture series/question-and-answer period.

But yesterday's event was off-campus, it was the USCIS session at the U.S. Institute of Peace, just off the Mall in Washington, DC, carrying the resounding title of "Partnering for Excellence: USCIS's First National Stakeholder Symposium".

In the pep rally phase there were skillful opening speeches by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and USCIS Director Ali Mayorkas praising the administration's immigration policies and putting a positive spin on the mixed decision of the Supreme Court. The audience, mostly immigration lawyers and more-migration activists, reacted warmly to the speakers.

The proxy for the honorary degree was the "Presentation of the Outstanding American by Choice Award" to Dr. Jan Vilcek, a native of the former Czechoslovakia, a refugee from Communism, and a highly successful biologist and philanthropist. He made important advances regarding the human immune system.

USCIS must be commended for its choice of a site; the U.S. Institute of Peace is a gorgeous building. You enter through the George Shultz Grand Hall, a soaring space with lots of glass and an intriguing roof treatment. This leads to the Frank Carlucci Auditorium where the speeches were given. (The latest wrinkle in Washington is that if you can't name a building for someone, you can at least name a room for him; Shultz had been Secretary of State, among other things, while Carlucci's Department was Defense.)

But the lecture series and Q&A periods I attended did not quite live up to the surroundings. As one immigration lawyer in the audience complained at one of the smaller sessions "this is all very amorphous."

She was speaking at a session titled "Breakout 1a: Attracting Entrepreneurial Talent to the U.S.: The Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR) Initiative and other Opportunities to Promote Economic Growth".

The panel dealt with the decision by USCIS to co-opt five private sector people (who remain on corporate payrolls) for 90 days to train USCIS staff adjudicators in the intricacies and latest patterns in start-up businesses. The star of the panel was the one non-USCIS person on it, an entrepreneur named Paul Ford.

He looked different from the USCIS males, who wore suits and ties and shaved faces.

Ford had on a dark suit, a black sports shirt open at the neck, and a very black Van Dyke beard. He was irreverent, he was funny, and he talked in terms that were non-governmental.

"What does the government do with a firm with three founders who do not have an office, who operate out of a Starbucks, are on to something exciting, and have a million in the bank?" he asked. The implication was that the adjudicators dealing with the various nonimmigrant worker programs would not know how to deal with such arrangements, and should learn how to do so.

While Ford was a breath of fresh air, he and his colleagues on the breakout panel talked only of process; where they had been, training they had engaged in, and their plans to help USCIS bridge a perceived gap between government and industry. They could not tell the audience any specifics because the things they were working on — they dealt with nonimmigrant work permits — were still under wraps.

I worry that this process, once completed, will simply make it easier for more alien workers to take jobs that are not offered to resident workers. The lawyers in the room worried that they had not learned anything substantive about how these new schemes will work.

There was one bit of hard news, however, that followed a question a college official asked of Mayorkas. She was pleased about the Dream Scheme, but wondered what USCIS was doing with F-2s and H-4s. There is some pressure from the more-migration people that these two groups, spouses of foreign students and spouses of H workers, respectively, be allowed to work, as they cannot do now.

USCIS Director Mayorkas said nothing about F-2s, but indicated that the agency has plans to issue new rules on H-4s and the work place.

Later in the comment period I suggested to the Director that the country needed more jobs, not more legal workers, and that there probably were hundreds of thousands of H-4s in the country; further, giving them the right to work would simply encourage the migration of more of them.

The Director replied smoothly, "I share your concerns, David, we will grant work permission to only a few of them, those whose spouses already have H-1B status and are nearing green card status."

I hope that is the case.

The event itself was smoothly managed, with all the logistics falling into place neatly; security, for a government meeting, was not intrusive, and the invitees/attendees ratio was just about perfect. There were only a handful of empty seats during the plenary session in the Carlucci auditorium, but there were well over 100 unclaimed badges at the reception point, meaning that the managers had accurately predicted what percentage of those who had accepted would actually attend.

Topics: Politics