The Use of Self-Created Ignorance as a USCIS Defense Mechanism

By David North on October 18, 2010

The otherwise useful article in the Sunday New York Times about aliens voting illegally slipped over the USCIS' slippery defense mechanism in the case, but to me it stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. I will get back to that in a minute.

The article, "Immigrants Find Voting Can Come at a Cost," told of the case of an immigrant from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts who voted in New York as a permanent resident alien, and, as a consequence, faces deportation.

While I am opposed to people voting who are not legally qualified to do so, I don't think that anything short of a concerted effort to falsely register aliens to vote should lead to deportation. Some of my colleagues at CIS, and some of my readers, may disagree with me. Delays of naturalization, yes; fines, yes; extensive PR on the punishment in the appropriate nationality or foreign language media, absolutely – but deportation seems a bit much.

So my beef does not relate to the individual act of illegal voting so much as it does to the concerted, self-created ignorance of USCIS, which was reported, more or less in passing, by Kirk Semple, the Times writer.

He wrote: "Officials with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services . . . say the agency does not keep records of how many noncitizens have been caught violating voting laws."

Of course. If an agency does not keep track of the incidence of law-breaking it can always say "Gee, we have no idea how often this happens."

And, given USCIS' intensely pro-immigration mindset, it probably does not want to know anything about an unattractive practice that blurs the agency's happy picture of the immigration process. This is true even if the illegal-voting practice is, as I suspect it is, not very common.

This deliberate, self-created, institutional ignorance is not, sadly, unusual with USCIS, as I mention in a previous blog. In that instance the problem was with the then high fraud rates – 30 to 33 percent – in the R-1 nonimmigrant program for religious workers. While the actual rates of overall fraud were reported by three government agencies that examined the program, it was noted that USCIS does not keep track of which specific religious organizations actually commit the fraud. (Let me give you a clue – it is not the mainstream Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish organizations.)

Again, if you don't record the facts, you cannot be asked about them.

Not only does USCIS not record which entities abuse the R-1 system in its staff reporting, its appellate body, the Office of Administrative Appeals, obliterates the names of the church-employers when it releases its decisions on specific R-1 cases.

In the Big Leagues – think Brown V. Board of Education and the U.S. Supreme Court – we know that Oliver L. Brown, a welder and a parent of a then school-age child, sued the Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education; everyone's name is a matter of public record. That's the rule, and not the exception, in the recording of American legal disputes.

But maybe, at least when it comes to transparency, USCIS is not yet ready for the Big Leagues.