The Welcome Arrival of a New, Clear-Eyed Reporter

By David North on January 15, 2012

One of the continuing problems in the immigration policy field has been the general posture of the mainstream media that international migration is, almost without exception, a great thing and as American as apple pie.

With this in mind, I would like to note the arrival of a clear-eyed reporter who takes a refreshing look at immigration policy. I have never met or talked with her, but have only read her penetrating coverage of the recent report of the DHS Inspector General, described in a previous blog.

She is Sarah Ryley and she writes for The Daily, an internet-only publication designed for iPad users, but available to others online.

She managed to get her hands on the not-yet published text of the IG's stunning report on how line USCIS officers are being pushed to say "yes" and to do so quickly, even on some questionable cases. She wrote several stories about it, including, on January 5, one headed "Pushing the Envelope: Immigration counsel in conflict-of-interest probe over visa approval".

Typically IG and Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports on immigration policy are both dull and careful to avoid controversy – this report did not fit either of these descriptions. Further it was signed by an acting Inspector General, who stuck out his neck by criticizing policies of the Obama administration when it is President Obama who will appoint the next IG of DHS.

Despite the unusual nature of the IG's report, there has been little press coverage of it, other than that of Ms. Ryley, and her colleague, Ashley Kindergan.

The news article cited above deals with a subject that is touched upon in the IG's report; that is the alleged intervention into a USCIS decision regarding a petition filed by the University of Arizona seeking an O (for Outstanding) visa for an alien academic that the university wanted as an assistant professor of geography.

The university sought the visa for an expert on Mongolia; the California Service Center, one of the USCIS decision factories, said that the person was not outstanding enough to warrant that visa. The decision, according to Ms. Ryley's article, irritated Roxana Bacon, an Arizona immigration lawyer with ties to the university who was – presumably thanks to Secretary Napolitano – serving as general counsel of USCIS, with a political appointment.

What happened next, according to Ms. Ryley, was this:

Frustrated that a low-level officer was questioning the university's expertise in deciding who was extraordinary, Bacon emailed senior officials in November 2009: "Let's find a way to get the adjudicators [officers] out of making judgment calls rather than legal calls on complex research areas beyond their, or our, expertise. We are comfortable knowing that good Universities ... can be given the benefit of the doubt."

A little later, according to the same story:

Internal backlash against Bacon's aggressive approach led Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General to launch a conflict-of-interest investigation the following month. According to a heavily redacted synopsis, Bacon was accused of using subordinates to prevent the denial of the Mongolian scholar's visa application. Several sources close to the investigation said that an employee was asked to go into the mail room and intercept the denial letter before it could be sent.

The staff stuck to their guns, the university appealed the denial to the internal USCIS review agency, the Administrative Appeals Office, which upheld the staff decision. Bacon subsequently resigned.

Needlessly to say, such detailed, searching reporting is not the norm.

While I applaud Ms. Ryley's journalism, I praise her despite the fact that I have a longtime grudge against her employer, the Murdoch interests. I say that from several viewpoints: that of a citizen, a newspaper-lover, and as a worker.

I generally disagree with Murdoch's politics and business practices and think that what he did to the venerable Times of London is the journalistic equivalent of dumping a load of garbage on the steps of a cathedral. Finally, for about a decade I was the (part-time) Washington correspondent of the Fiji-based newsmagazine Pacific Islands Monthly, a delightful if not very well-paid assignment for me. After I left (and this is not cause-and-effect) Murdoch killed it so quickly that poor old PIM did not even get to publish a farewell issue.

Note: I find the University of Arizona's appeal from the staff's negative decision to the AAO, in the case of the Mongolian scholar, bewildering. The university had, all along, the option of using either the J-1 or the H-1B program to bring the scholar in question. If the City of Baltimore can use the J-1 program to hire minimally qualified aliens to teach in the public grade schools, surely a university could get such a visa for a college professor. Alternatively, the university could have used its academic status to avoid the kind of ceiling on H-1Bs that applies to other employers, so that would not have been an obstacle.

Did the university feel it had such a good friend in court, Ms. Bacon, that they did not need to use any other avenues to hire that person? Maybe they, in fact, did use H-1B or J-1 for that purpose and neither Ms. Ryley nor the IG noticed. Odd.