USCIS Director Meets With Silicon Valley Lawyers

Yesterday I had the benefit of joining a group of local San Francisco and Silicon Valley immigration lawyers and government staffers to meet with the USCIS Director, Alejandro Mayorkas. He held a town-hall style meeting at the San Francisco USCIS office, to provide an overview of his goals for the USCIS and to hear our concerns of working with the USCIS. Overall, as an immigration lawyer, I came away truly enthusiastic about the direction I hope we will see the USCIS headed. If the Director can put his goals into action, then applicants and lawyers should see a more positive interaction with the USCIS, and we should see the USCIS heading away from the "culture of no" that has pervaded the USCIS over the past several years.

The Director had no prepared remarks, and began by stating that he hoped everyone would feel comfortable being outspoken. As a Cuban immigrant himself, he explained that he wants the U.S. immigration system to be "welcoming". He wants adjudicators to understand that each case is about someone's life and the lives of their family, and each case needs to be treated as such. The Director rhetorically asked how the USCIS can be welcoming while also being vigilant against fraud. His answer was that a vigilant approach permits the USCIS to be welcoming and embracing.

The Director acknowledged that a government agency that is essentially a public service agency cannot serve without reaching out to the community. He highlighted the USCIS' Office of Public Engagement, as one avenue to bridge the divide between the USCIS and the community. He also acknowledged that the USCIS cannot govern by edict, as they effectively do when they publish new memos interpreting critical statutes and regulations without consulting those most affected. He specifically acknowledged the troublesome Neufeld Memo of January 2010 and discussed in an earlier post.

A long Q&A period permitted us to ask questions as well as to provide examples of the types of things that are really going on. One example raised was by the attorney at a legal clinic who represented a married couple. The husband had petitioned for the wife, and the couple had a baby. They proceeded without a lawyer, and attended their green-card interview at their local USCIS office. The husband did not bring his W-2's with his Federal Tax returns, and failed to send them in after the interview even though they were requested. Instead of sending a letter to the couple requesting the W-2, or instead of calling the couple on the phone number they provided at the interview, the local USCIS office denied the application and put the wife into removal (deportation) proceedings. The legal clinic represented the wife in immigration court and was able to stop her deportation, but this is an example of the complete OPPOSITE of a welcoming USCIS. This is precisely the sort of thing that should not be happening. The USCIS officer who denied the case could not have really believed that the marriage was not legitimate simply because W-2's were never provided. Director Mayorkas was truly disturbed by this story, and requested more specific information from the legal clinic attorney.

Director Mayorkas has a refreshing attitude about how the USCIS should view their cases and interact with the public. As an immigration lawyer, I look forward to seeing his goals actually implemented in practice.

Immigration Reform / by Michelle Gee