USCIS has done exactly the right thing to one of its forms — a form frequently misused by aliens — but its press people have totally blurred this fraud-fighting accomplishment.
I know that a discussion of a government form is sure to glaze the eyes, but this time it is significant.
The form is the I-797C — the Notice of Action — which formally confirms that something is happening to an alien's desire for legal status, but does not indicate that anything has happened yet. Some aliens have used it to fool the gullible into believing that the alien has full legal status.
The document itself, until now, has been printed on the same high-quality paper used for passports, money, and government bonds. If you view even the fuzzy picture of an older version of this form you can see it is an impressive looking piece of paper.
Well, USCIS has decided to make it look less impressive, to use cheaper paper, and most important of all to announce, in large type, at the top:
THIS NOTICE DOES NOT GRANT ANY IMMIGRATION STATUS OR BENEFIT
The document then goes on, in smaller type, to announce one of several transactions, such as the receipt of an application, its rejection, its transfer to another office, the re-opening of a previously closed case, or a summons calling for the alien to meet with a government official at a certain time and place to discuss the application. It never is used to confer a benefit.
But you would not know that the agency is worried about immigration fraud if you read the lead of its press release:
USCIS will issue Form I-797C, Notice of Action, with a new look and feel. We will print the Form I-797C on plain bond paper. The change is estimated to save the agency about $1.1 million per year.
All this is perfectly true, but it misses the hard-edged, anti-fraud decision. It is designed to prevent aliens from misusing the document, but USCIS does not want to think (or at least not to speak) in such terms. That's unfortunate, because it is a solid, overdue step forward.
Coincidentally, just two days before USCIS issued its bland press release, there was an excellent news article by Paula McMahon about immigration fraud in South Florida's Sun Sentinel. The indicted couple were Levy Garcia-Crespo and his wife Anyelina Cid Bonilla and they, according to the prosecutors:
[I]nstructed clients to file immigration forms with the government that automatically generated a printed receipt [such as the I-797C], which the clients then took to driver's license offices around South Florida. Though the receipts clearly state that they do not entitle the bearer to any special immigration status, officials still issued legal driver's licenses on the strength of them.
In short, the misuse of the I-797C is a real problem, USCIS has done something about it, and then has hidden the anti-fraud message implicit in its action.
Incidentally, I do believe that the agency saved a bundle of money at the same time; the form is used frequently, and the elegant paper and the perhaps sophisticated printing arrangements needed are expensive and probably should have scrapped.