USCIS Staff Pushed to OK Questionable Cases – Unpublished IG Report

By David North on January 6, 2012

An unpublished report of the DHS inspector general, according to an internet-only publication, says that many USCIS officers felt pressured to approve questionable immigration cases:

. . . high-ranking USCIS officials said the pressure has heightened after the Obama Administration appointed Alejandro Mayorkas as director in August 2009 . . . bringing with him a mantra of "get to yes".

The web publication, called simply The Daily, regards itself as "the #1 original tablet newspaper". I had not heard of it before, but it handles this immigration story as if it knows what it is talking about.

Its headline is "The Daily Exclusive: RUBBER STAMP." The by-line is that of Sarah Ryley.

The Daily says it has it hands on a "40-page report, drafted by the Office of Inspector General in September but not publicly released, [which] details the immense pressures immigration service officers are under to approve visa applications quickly, sometime while overlooking concerns about fraud, eligibility, or security."

That's the Department of Homeland Security's IG office, presumably, and it will be interesting to see if the department reacts to the story.

This blog has repeatedly written about efforts of the new Administration to tilt the system to say "yes" more often, but it had no first-hand information about internal pressures in the same direction. See, for instance, this posting on the "streamlining" of the EB-5 program for immigrant investors.

The results of a survey of USCIS staff, regarding pressures on them to say yes, also meshes neatly with my recent blog on how the USCIS denial rates for naturalization have declined steadily in recent years.

As background, there is a lot of discretion in the decision-making process at the journeyman level in the USCIS. Large numbers of decisions have to be made daily, always on a case-by-case basis, often on badly presented applications, and the staff has to quickly sort out the approvable paper from that which needs more information, or should be turned down immediately.

The rules are often complex, and the facts are often murky. It is not an easy job, and the same batch of papers that look good to one official, may look suspicious to another one. In most cases the officers look only at the applications and have no chance to interview, or otherwise interact with, the applicants.

Nevertheless, USCIS usually says "yes" to what it has on its plate, but the new administration, according to this story, wants it to say "yes" more often, and more quickly.

It is within this context that the article reports "Internal communications provided to The Daily indicate that the new leadership seemed to fundamentally clash with career agency employees over when to afford the benefit of the doubt, culminating in a whistle-blower investigation in a senior appointee [not named in the article] and, ultimately the agency-wide inspector general inquiry that produced the report."

"At least five agency veterans", the article continued, "seen as being too tough on applicants were either demoted, or given the choice between a demotion or a relocation from Southern California – where their families were – to San Francisco and Nebraska, according to sources and letters of reassignment provided to The Daily. Those kinds of threats have caused lower-level employees to fall in line, sources said.

"The report also found that supervisors sometimes take cases away from an unwilling officer and assign them to someone else, against agency rules."

Among the quotations from the text of the unpublished IG report, The Daily printed these"

63 of the 254 Immigration Services Officers (24.8%) responded that they have been pressured to approve questionable applications. ...

Another 35 ISOs (13.9%) had serious concern that employees who focus on fraud and ineligibility were evaluated unfairly. ...

. . . data confirm that USCIS was more likely to grant O visa status [for aliens who have extraordinary ability in science, arts, business, or athletics] incorrectly than to deny a legitimate position.

The last sentence puzzles me, even after the correct word, "petition," is inserted to replace "position." While it is well known that Mayorkas has paid special attention to the O visas, what data set would show the number of incorrectly awarded petitions? Maybe this is based on a statement by the officer who specialized in O cases.

I look forward to reading the IG's report, if it is allowed to be released.