Vastavam web: The head of the agency handling citizenship and visa applications was surprised when he faced blowback for cutting a reference to the U.S. being a “nation of immigrants” in its mission statement. The son of a Peruvian immigrant added language about “protecting Americans” instead. L. Francis Cissna argued that America is indisputably a nation of immigrants but that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ mission statement wasn’t the place to say so. Joseph Edlow, who now oversees the agency, said he hasn’t thought about the 2018 kerfuffle, but it crystallized for many how the Trump administration has changed the government’s approach to legal immigration.
Processing times are longer, and the agency’s backlog of cases stands at 5 million. Making it tougher to get permission to live and work in America has had consequences for USCIS itself: its roughly $5 billion annual budget is funded almost entirely by application fees, which have dwindled with the stricter rules. Financial pressures mounted this summer as USCIS narrowly averted furloughs for 70% of its roughly 20,000 employees. Curbing legal immigration has been a priority for President Donald Trump as he’s reshaped the immigration system, arguably more than any predecessor. He’s thrilled supporters with an “America first” message and infuriated critics who call his signature domestic issue insular, xenophobic and even racist.
Trump failed to get Congress to support cuts to the system of immigrants bringing over relatives, but Stephen Miller, a top Trump adviser, said moving to a more “merit based” system, based on skills, would be a priority if the president is reelected. Democrat Joe Biden offers a sharp contrast: preserve family-based immigration and “streamline” naturalization for green-card holders. He wants a path to citizenship for about 11 million people in the U.S. illegally, which would require congressional support.
Miller told the AP that USCIS was plagued by a “huge amount of fraud” and its workforce “came to see itself as a representative of the benefit-seeker rather than the representative of the American people.” “This administration has undertaken a thorough revamping of the agency to restore its congressional mission of ensuring that benefits are only awarded to those who are genuinely eligible under law and that, ensuring in admitting them, no harm is done to our economic or national security interests,” he said.
Some critics say USCIS hasn’t provided enough evidence of widespread fraud. Even Louis D. Crocetti Jr., first director of USCIS’ anti-fraud unit who supports Trump’s policies and calls fraud common, says the agency should release more findings.