– A majority of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers under the Obama administration believe that their agency’s policy favors the promotion of immigration over national security, according to a 2011 survey conducted by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) inspector general (IG). However, the director of the USCIS dismissed the data from the IG as anecdotal and not “fact-based.”
“When asked how well USCIS balances national security and promoting immigration, 130 of 252 respondents (51.6%) said that USCIS policy is too heavily weighted toward promoting immigration,” revealed a DHS IG January 2012 report entitled, “The Effects of USCIS Adjudication Procedures and Policies on Fraud Detection by Immigration Services Officers.”
Only 6 respondents (2.4 percent) believe that “USCIS policy makes national security concerns too prominent in the immigration benefit petition process,” reads the report.
The DHS IG audit, which was conducted between January and May 2011, included an online survey sent to a random selection of immigration services officers (ISOs) in all 26 USCIS districts across the country. Most respondents have been ISOs for more than three years. The questions, according to the IG, delved into the agency’s “FY 2011 performance measures, pressure to adjudicate cases, and overall impressions about the USCIS mission.”
When asked if they have “ever” been asked or “pressured” by their superiors to approve applications that should have been denied, 63 (24.8 percent) of 254 USCIS officers said yes.
“Although fewer than one in four respondents had this concern, we view the number of pressured ISOs as a threat to the integrity of the benefit issuance system,” noted the IG.
ISOs, at times, “have been required to approve specific cases against their will,” stated the report. Some officers said that in complying with supervisor demands, they have “approved visa applications containing suspect information.”
On a separate question, 90 percent of 251 respondents concluded that they lacked sufficient time to conduct interviews of applicants who were seeking immigration benefits.
Only 25 (10 percent) of the respondents said they had “enough time” to conduct interviews. Meanwhile, 109 (43.4 percent) officers concluded that the time is “too short” and 117 (46.6 percent) said the “length of time for interview should change, but only to a limited extent.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who requested the IG report, accused the USCIS leadership in Washington D.C. of employing a “get to yes” attitude that is not in the best interest of the American people.
“Whistleblowers have been complaining for several years that leadership in Washington, D.C. and immediate supervisors were placing inappropriate pressure on immigration adjudicators to simply find a way to approve benefits,” said Sen. Grassley in a Jan. 6 statement.
In October 2010, Grassley accused Obama’s USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas of “fostering an environment that pressures employees to approve as many applications as possible” while condoning “retaliation against those who dissent” and asked the DHS IG to investigate.
The Daily, which reported on the DHS IG findings before they were publicly released, pointed out that, according to internal communication documents they obtained, the “pressure” to approve immigration benefits had “heightened” under Mayorkas in “an effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”
Nevertheless, the IG report mentioned that the issue of weighing quantity over quality when approving immigration benefits has been plaguing USCIS for decades.
The DHS IG added that “through process improvements and additional systems checks, USCIS has taken important steps to improve national security and fraud detection,” but also said that the “USCIS can take further steps to insulate the benefit adjudication process from internal and external pressures that continue to hinder the adjudications function.”
The report suggested that the 18,000-plus USCIS employees and contractors are overwhelmed by their workload of processing more than 6 million applications for citizenship, permanent residency, employment authorization, and relief, among other benefits.
Despite being charged with other responsibilities, immigration service officers are required to complete between 12 and 15 interviews per day in less than 30 minutes each, which leaves “ample opportunities for critical information to be overlooked,” revealed the IG.
“The consensus among ISOs throughout the country is that quantity is still at least as important to their supervisors and managers as quality,” stated the report.
“Additional ISO positions, rather than production pressure, are the better way to reduce production backlogs,” suggested the IG. “For USCIS to prioritize fraud detection and national security, a reduction in case numbers per day is necessary.”
In what appears to be a disclaimer, the report mentioned that responses from the surveyed immigration officers do not necessarily reflect the experience of most USCIS officers across the country, adding that “general employee concerns about the impact of production pressure on the quality of an ISO’s decisions do not mean that systemic problems compromise the ability of USCIS to detect fraud and security threats.”
None of the officers who were surveyed presented “cases where benefits were granted to those who pose terrorist or national security threats” to the United States, added the IG. “Even those employees who criticized management expressed confidence that USCIS would never compromise national security on a given case.”
Less than half (46 percent) of 252 respondents concluded that “in general, USCIS has a reasonable balance between promotion of immigration and national security.”
In his response to the IG report, the USCIS director dismissed the findings as being “based on anecdotal statements regarding USCIS’s purported policies and practices and not on fact-based data,” adding that “within the quality arena these types of surveys are referred to as ‘self-selected opinion polls’ that scholarly research concludes can produce flawed results.”