U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services invites you to a free, nationwide Spanish-language event Wednesday, May 20, 2015, from 3:30 to 5:00pm (Eastern). Our representatives will share agency updates and be available to answer your questions about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
To Join the Session by Phone On the day of the session, please use the information below to join the teleconference. We recommend that you call 10-15 minutes before the start time.
Hearing on Cyber Side-Effects: How Secure is the Personal Information Entered into the Flawed Healthcare.gov before the House Committee on Homeland Security on November 2013 by Associate Director Soraya Correa
ENTERPRISE SERVICES DIRECTORATE
U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES
FOR A HEARING ON
“CYBER SIDE-EFFECTS: HOW SECURE IS THE PERSONAL INFORMATION ENTERED INTO THE FLAWED HEALTHCARE.GOV?”
THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON HOMELAND SECURITY
NOVEMBER 13, 2013 10:00 AM
311 CANNON HOUSE OFFICE BUILDING
Chairman McCaul, Ranking Member Thompson, and Members of the Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss our shared goals of supporting government agencies to ensure that only authorized applicants receive public benefits. My name is Soraya Correa, Associate Director for the Enterprise Services Directorate. I am responsible for overseeing verification programs at U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) limits eligibility to enroll in a qualified health plan through the state and federal exchanges established under the ACA to citizens, nationals, or those otherwise “lawfully present” in the United States. The law directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to check applicant eligibility against Department of Homeland Security (DHS) data if the applicant does not attest that he or she is a U.S. Citizen, or if the Social Security Administration (SSA) cannot verify the applicant’s claim of U.S. Citizenship. The Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program responds to queries and provides HHS, through the “Hub” established by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, with immigration status information as well as information regarding naturalized and derived citizens on behalf of DHS.
1 SAVE is a service that helps federal, state and local benefit-issuing agencies, institutions, and licensing agencies determine the immigration status of benefit applicants so only those applicants entitled to benefits receive them. SAVE does not determine whether applicants are eligible for a specific benefit or license; the benefit-granting agency makes that determination. SAVE uses an online system that checks a benefit applicant’s immigration status information against over 100 million federal records. Agencies that do not have access to an automated system may submit a paper verification request. SAVE is available in all 50 states. It has been providing immigration status information to public benefit granting agencies for over 25 years. SAVE has more than 1,060 customer agencies, including the Social Security Administration and most state departments of motor vehicles. The SAVE Program received over 14 million verification requests in fiscal year 2013.
SAVE Access and Verification Process
Before accessing SAVE, user agencies must sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) or a Computer Matching Agreement (CMA) with USCIS that details the terms and conditions of their use of SAVE. The SAVE verification process requires up to three steps: 1) Initial Verification, 2) Additional Verification, and 3) Third Step Verification. For initial verification, a user agency submits a status verification request and the system provides the applicant’s immigration status information. If SAVE is not able to verify an individual’s immigration status on initial verification, the benefit granting agency is prompted to submit the query to the additional verification step.
During additional verification, a user agency may also submit additional information, such as a maiden name or additional immigration document numbers, to USCIS using the SAVE system. SAVE response time for additional verification, which includes manual review of available databases, ranges from 3-5 federal working days. If SAVE is not able to verify an individual’s immigration status at this stage, the agency is prompted to submit the query for third step verification. The user agency must forward a completed Document Verification Request form, with legible photocopies of both sides of the applicant’s immigration documentation to USCIS for third step verification. Registered agencies may submit this information electronically or manually. SAVE response times for third step verification is generally 10-20 federal working days. If immigration status still cannot be confirmed, benefit-granting agencies may refer applicants to a local USCIS office to correct or update their record.
PREPARATIONS FOR ACA
USCIS and HHS entered into a CMA to authorize HHS to use the SAVE program for ACA verification. In preparation for the ACA open enrollment period, USCIS and HHS tested the web services connection between SAVE and the HHS “Hub” that the Exchanges uses to submit queries to SAVE and other partner agencies. The testing included checks on both case-specific queries and overall functionality.
After all testing was successfully completed in the weeks leading up to open enrollment, HHS was granted access to SAVE to meet the October 1 ACA exchanges implementation date. As of November 10, 2013, there have been 91,011 Hub-generated initial queries with an average of 1.31 seconds for initial electronic SAVE responses. It is important to note that this figure is not a proxy for the number of individuals about whom HHS has submitted queries to SAVE because there are often multiple SAVE queries per applicant. Moreover, this figure is not a proxy for the number of people who have applied for health care coverage under the ACA because only a small percentage of such applications require the submission of queries to SAVE. SAVE is responding to all properly submitted queries.
To help facilitate immigration status verification for HHS and other agencies under the ACA, USCIS designated more than 30 additional staff to ACA cases and has introduced several program enhancements. Authorized agencies may now receive grant date and sponsorship information for select statuses on initial, second, and third step verification. Previously, agencies had to submit multiple forms to determine when an applicant was granted status, and sponsorship information was not available on initial verification.
USCIS also recently introduced an “auto second step” feature, which allows SAVE to automatically send cases to additional verification if the initial step requests additional verification. This enhancement decreases agency user burden, ensures that additional verification cases are referred to the second step, and makes the case resolution process more efficient. Additionally, in April 2013, the SAVE Program launched a scan and upload feature that enables agencies to electronically attach scanned copies of immigration documents to cases. Cases with a scanned copy of the immigration document do not require submission of a paper form.
Since the inception of the SAVE Program, USCIS has provided benefit-granting government agencies a reliable method to verify an applicant’s immigration status to ensure that only authorized applicants receive public benefits. On behalf of all of my colleagues at USCIS, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today about the SAVE program.
Oversight of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services before the House Committee on the Judiciary on July 2014 by USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez
U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES
FOR A HEARING ON
U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES”
THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
JULY 29, 2014 10:00 AM
2141 RAYBURN HOUSE OFFICE BUILDING
Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers, and Members of the Committee, I am Leon Rodriguez, the new Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to testify about the state of USCIS and discuss several critical issues important to this Committee.
I am extremely grateful to the Members of this Committee for your continued strong interest in USCIS and its programs. Having just entered on duty as the Director of USCIS on July 9th, I look forward to the opportunity to meet with each of the members of this Committee personally and to learn more about your specific interests.
Even before taking the job, I was already keenly aware that USCIS’ mission is an extremely challenging one. And I recognize, as each of you are already aware, just how critical it is that USCIS carry out that mission fairly and accurately. USCIS has a proud history of providing benefits to individuals from all over the world. These benefits support fundamental values and needs of our nation, be they economic, humanitarian, or in the public interest. USCIS delivers these benefits while being ever vigilant for those who seek to undermine the integrity of our immigration system—or worse—those who seek to do us physical or economic harm. USCIS is only able to accomplish its complex and vital mission through the efforts of its thousands of dedicated public servants who each day administer a complex immigration system fairly, firmly, and professionally. I look forward to becoming acquainted with as many of them as possible in the days ahead.
I understand the challenges in managing an effective and efficient immigration services organization, while delivering on the promise of our mission. I fully appreciate that our ability to overcome challenges and take full advantage of our potential requires close relationships with our partners, including Congress and this Committee, in particular.
I also take very seriously the trust that has been given me. It is of personal importance to me that our Agency embodies our core principles of transparency, integrity, consistency and efficiency. Doing so will ensure that we are effective stewards of the resources –appropriated and fee-based—we receive. It is personal to me, you see, for I was born in Brooklyn, New York to Cuban immigrants. My grandparents came to Cuba from Turkey and Poland, escaping anti-Semitism and oppression. In two generations, my family made not one, but two life-changing moves. Like many immigrants to this country, my parents hoped for a better future, not just for themselves, but for their children. Having devoted my life to public service, I hope that I not only met their expectations, but I am also giving back to the country that welcomed them. As a former trial attorney, county attorney, Assistant United States Attorney, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division within the Department of Justice, and as the former Director of the Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, I intend to draw on my background, as well as my heritage, to ensure that USCIS delivers the appropriate benefits to the right people while ensuring that benefits are denied to those who are ineligible.
In my short time at USCIS, I have discussed priorities with the Agency’s management team. I fully support ongoing efforts to make USCIS a world-class organization—with transparent policies and procedures. I have been impressed with the Agency’s commitment to engagement with entities across the spectrum of our communities—from law enforcement and intelligence agencies and governmental organizations to immigration advocacy groups. The better we communicate with our stakeholders, the better we can provide the world-class service we should all expect.
Today, I would like to take this opportunity of my first appearance before you to provide an overview of key accomplishments and initiatives USCIS has undertaken and also give you an overview of some of the key challenges I believe we currently face. Each of the actions we are undertaking stems from our Agency’s guiding principles of integrity, efficiency, consistency and transparency.
USCIS has implemented a vastly-improved website to improve the ability of USCIS customers to access the information and assistance they need. The redesigned USCIS.gov website and its parallel website for Spanish-speaking customers are even more customer-centric. The website provides customers with a “one-stop shop” for immigration services and information. Through the website, customers are now able to receive real-time information regarding their case status, obtain office-specific processing times, and opt to receive a text message when their status changes. The clarity of language has been improved, customer service tools have been made more accessible, and navigation through the website has been simplified. Each day, there are between 330 and 370 thousand visitors on the USCIS website, making it one of the most visited in the federal government.
As the primary government agency overseeing lawful immigration to the United States, USCIS is committed to promoting citizenship and its importance to society and raising awareness of citizenship rights and responsibilities among the permanent resident population. Our continued success as a nation of immigrants depends on the ability of lawful newcomers to permanently settle in communities and enjoy the rights and freedoms that define our nation. Naturalization is a critical milestone for immigrants in achieving full participation, gaining a sense of belonging, and receiving equality under the law.
To maximize the potential to reach the estimated 8.8 million permanent residents currently eligible to apply for citizenship but who have not yet done so, USCIS has entered into partnerships with cities to raise awareness. Starting first with a Letter of Agreement with the City of Los Angeles to promote citizenship awareness, education and civic participation, USCIS expanded on this model of municipal partnerships by signing Letters of Agreement with Chicago in 2013 and with Nashville in 2014. These mutually beneficial partnerships give USCIS new avenues to engage with immigrants and also help cities deliver much needed information and services to their residents. Such cooperation has also helped us identify opportunities for other local institutions, particularly public libraries, to serve as venues for disseminating resources and information. We formalized this engagement with libraries in 2013 through a Memorandum of Understanding with the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. This partnership allows us to provide libraries with official immigration and naturalization information, along with ongoing training opportunities for local librarians.
In addition, the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program is a key component of USCIS’ broader effort to build capacity in communities to prepare immigrants for citizenship. It is the only federally funded program that makes preparing permanent residents for naturalization its primary goal. Since October 2009, USCIS grant recipients have provided citizenship preparation services to more than 86,000 permanent residents in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Federal funding by itself cannot fully meet the citizenship preparation needs of those eligible to apply for naturalization, so our agency continues to train adult educators and volunteers on the skills needed to teach U.S. history, civics and the naturalization process to immigrant students. We recently reached a milestone of more than 10,000 participants in these trainings.
Recognizing the need for transparency, we have emphasized communication and outreach through implementation of a robust and improved stakeholder engagement program. Our Office of Public Engagement works to ensure our external partners are included in the consideration of policy and process development, while also keeping our customers fully informed of USCIS issues and activities. The Office has held hundreds of collaboration sessions with the immigration stakeholder community on a wide variety of topics such as the redesign of the medical certification for disability exceptions form, the development of a new fee waiver form, Haitian TPS, and issues affecting vulnerable populations. Just as an example, on TPS for Haiti alone, the Office has coordinated over 156 engagements reaching more than 16,400 individuals. In FY2013, the Office of Public Engagement held over 230 engagements with our federal partners.
Policy and Procedure Transparency
From my long career upholding the law while protecting individuals’ civil rights, I believe it imperative that USCIS maintains the highest standards of integrity. I understand how crucial the uniform application and interpretation of policies across USCIS is to our mission of providing the public with the highest possible level of service.
To enhance consistency and integrity, we are continually reviewing our policy and operational guidance documents to ensure that we apply the law consistently and appropriately in the delivery of immigration benefits. This ensures that USCIS is consistent in application of our policies and operational procedures across all our domestic and international offices, giving applicants and petitioners the chance to know what to expect. We will continue to examine our policies and procedures to ensure this consistency becomes a hallmark of USCIS and its adjudications.
Stewardship and Workload Management
Over the years, USCIS has developed several common-sense plans to reduce non-mission critical travel, subscriptions, and printing; maximize the use of government space for meetings; and improve utilization of refurbished information technology. USCIS issued a reduction in centrally located training that has helped reduce associated travel costs. USCIS has also undertaken a Balanced Workforce Strategy, consistent with a Department-wide initiative that has helped USCIS reduce workforce-related costs over time, without sacrificing our ability to deliver timely products to eligible applicants.
A continuing challenge for us remains the balancing of workloads. When implementing new programs or experiencing surges in applications, there is always a danger that backlogs will develop. We will always look for ways to vigorously make quality improvements in the administration of the immigration system, while not sacrificing processing times for application and petition adjudication.
Our most recent challenge in balancing workloads was in the timely adjudication of I-130 immediate relative visa petitions. Between August 2012 and October 2013, over 163,000 stand-alone I-130s were shipped to field offices for adjudication. In October 2013, USCIS began transferring stand-alone I-130s filed on behalf of an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen from the National Benefits Center to the four Service Centers. USCIS has worked diligently to eliminate this backlog of stand-alone I-130 immediate relative petitions. Currently, USCIS field offices have just over 1,100 cases from the original backlog left to adjudicate, and all of these cases are currently in the process of being adjudicated. As of June 2014, processing times have been reduced to within the processing goal of 5 months or less at three of the four service centers and to 5.5 months at the fourth.
In order to ensure that this type of backlog does not develop again, USCIS will continue to prioritize this important workload and routinely monitors receipt and adjudication rates to avoid large backlogs developing. USCIS will reallocate resources as needed to address any filing surges that may arise.
USCIS Anti-Fraud and National Security Screening Efforts
USCIS is committed to ensuring that immigration benefits are not granted to individuals who pose a threat to national security or public safety, or who seek to defraud the U.S. immigration system. In keeping with this commitment, USCIS has instituted a robust system of programs, procedures, and security checks, led by the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS). At its core, this system ensures that every application for an immigration benefit is screened before it is adjudicated.
In May of this year, FDNS marked its tenth year as an organization within USCIS. Built to enhance the agency’s fraud-detection, national security, public safety, and intelligence support capabilities, FDNS now has officers in every USCIS field office, service center, and asylum office across the United States, as well as three overseas locations. These officers receive intensive training designed to provide guidance in identifying immigration fraud, conducting administrative investigations, and managing national security cases. Reflecting the fact that the anti-fraud and national security mission is shared across the agency, FDNS officers work hand-in-hand with their adjudication officer counterparts to ensure that immigration benefits are granted to the right individual, at the right time, and that no benefits are granted to those who are ineligible or pose a threat to our country’s security.
FDNS has taken a number of recent steps to enhance its operational effectiveness, including:
Fraud Detection Enhancements
• Expanding the Administrative Site Visit and Verification Program (ASVVP) to include L-1A Intracompany transferees, while continuing to conduct unannounced pre- and post-adjudication site visits on religious worker and H-1B petitions. During these site visits, FDNS officers verify information submitted with petitions, confirm the existence of the petitioning entity, review public records, take photographs, and speak with organizational representatives and the beneficiary. FDNS has conducted over 76,000 ASVVP site inspections since 2009 when this program was created.
• Implementing new post-conviction integrity management processes to deal with immigration benefit applications implicated in large-scale fraud prosecutions.
• Ensuring officers are provided with current information on fraud trends and patterns through the use of intelligence reporting and mandatory anti-fraud training. To that end, FDNS has implemented an updated intelligence report tracking and dissemination method via an agency-wide communication mechanism, and enhanced its ability to share immigration-related intelligence reporting with U.S. government counterparts. The agency is harnessing technology to better enable identification of imposters, criminals, and others who are attempting to game the immigration system.
• Augmenting the FDNS Basic training program to incorporate criminal investigation modules provided by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC).
National Security, Screening, and Vetting Enhancements
• Developing an intelligence-driven approach to managing cases with national security concerns.
• Reordering the FDNS organizational structure to include a new Program Management Office, charged with advancing new screening and technology initiatives in collaboration with USCIS’s Office of Information Technology, and standing up a Public Safety Division to address the threat posed by transnational organized crime.
• Developing, in conjunction with colleagues from the Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate, enhanced screening for higher risk groups in the refugee and asylum domains.
To ensure national security and public safety threats are recognized and addressed, USCIS conducts a combination of automated and manual biographic and biometric background checks. In support of these screening efforts, FDNS partners closely with law enforcement and intelligence community agencies, including the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces, and all State and Major Urban Area Fusion Centers has detailed FDNS officers to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces, and Forensic Laboratory, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Terrorism Screening Center, the Department of State’s Kentucky Consular Center and National Visa Center, INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau, and others.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
I would now like to discuss the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and other ongoing efforts. This Administration has worked diligently to focus immigration enforcement resources on public safety, border security, and the integrity of the immigration system. On June 15, 2012, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano announced that certain individuals who came to the United States as children and met several key guidelines could request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years and, if authorized, could receive work authorization. After the initial two-year period, individuals would be allowed to request a renewal of deferred action. Deferred action is a discretionary determination to defer removal action on a case-by-case basis against an individual as an act of prosecutorial discretion.
USCIS was charged with establishing a clear and efficient process for consideration of DACA requests. This effort is part of a greater DHS effort to ensure that valuable and limited enforcement resources are spent wisely on those individuals who are a danger to national security or a risk to public safety.
DACA reflects, on a larger scale, the exercise of the prosecutorial discretion that is inherent in every individual encounter in which DHS engages. Under DACA, DHS may defer the removal of an individual who meets the guidelines. DACA does not confer a legal status on the recipient; it is simply the exercise of prosecutorial discretion to defer the removal of an individual. It does not eliminate the fact that the individual remains subject to removal should DHS decline to continue to exercise prosecutorial discretion favorably. Individuals granted deferred action pursuant to DACA are authorized to seek employment authorization. This helps achieve the social benefit of lifting these individuals out of the underground economy and enabling them to participate in the mainstream economy.
As of June 30, 2014, over 580,000 individuals have received deferred action pursuant to DACA. DHS has now launched the next phase of DACA, which involves the renewal of deferred action. The first USCIS-issued grants of deferred action under DACA will expire in September 2014. USCIS has revised Form I-821D, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, to allow for both initial DACA requests and renewal requests. As of June 5, 2014, all requestors, whether initial or renewal, must file the new version of Form I-821D. As of June 27, 2014, USCIS had received over 6,800 renewal requests. We also continue to receive DACA requests from those seeking an initial period of deferred action under DACA.
While DACA serves the dual purpose of fairness and the wise use of enforcement resources, it cannot substitute for comprehensive immigration reform. DHS and the Administration will continue to advocate for Congress to enact lasting, comprehensive reform.
Asylum and Credible Fear Claims
The current influx of migrants across the Southwest border has resulted in significant increases in apprehensions and expedited removals. In the expedited removal process, USCIS plays an important role in ensuring that potential refugees or victims of torture are not improperly returned to their home countries. Our specially-trained Asylum Officers interview individuals who express a fear of return during the expedited removal process to determine whether they have a credible fear of persecution or torture. Individuals who meet the credible fear threshold are placed in removal proceedings, where they can apply for asylum or other relief. Individuals found not to have a credible fear of persecution may request review of that finding by an immigration judge. USCIS coordinates closely with our DHS partner agencies, CBP and ICE, to screen individuals for credible fear as part of the expedited removal process.
Over the last three years, as migration across the Southwest border has increased, the number of credible fear claims has climbed sharply from 13,880 in FY12 to a projected 50,000 by the end of FY14. USCIS has pursued a number of strategies to address this increased caseload, including:
• Hiring and training 100 new asylum officers this fiscal year;
• Deploying over fifty asylum-trained officers from across the agency to process credible fear and asylum cases on temporary assignments;
• Streamlining credible fear procedures;
• Maximizing overtime; and
• Creating a remote adjudication capability that enables Asylum Officers to process credible fear cases from any location.
As a result of these efforts, USCIS has not only kept pace with this exponentially growing caseload, we have also accelerated processing times, going from a 14-day processing time to an eight-day average processing time. In addition, as part of the federal government’s coordinated response on the southwest border, USCIS has deployed additional Asylum Officers to key detention facilities along the border. Our ability to timely process credible fear claims saves valuable detention resources, enables the entire expedited removal process to operate more efficiently, and most importantly, minimizes detention of potential asylees and victims of torture.
These efforts have not come without costs. Resources have been diverted from our affirmative asylum caseload to the credible fear caseload, causing our pending affirmative asylum caseload to grow from 15,526 cases at the end of FY12 to over 50,000 cases by June 2014. In order to help reduce the pending caseload, last month we began the process of hiring 50 additional asylum officers. We will continue to identify ways to maximize our resources, work efficiently, and enhance quality as we work to address both the credible fear and affirmative asylum caseloads.
USCIS is also supporting efforts to address the flow of unaccompanied children across the Southwest border. While unaccompanied children are not subject to expedited removal and therefore do not enter the credible fear process, USCIS has initial jurisdiction over asylum applications filed by unaccompanied children under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. In FY14 (through the third quarter), USCIS has received over 1,500 asylum applications from unaccompanied children—approximately four percent of asylum applications received overall by USCIS. Of the 167 unaccompanied children asylum cases adjudicated on the merits in FY14 through the third quarter, 64.7% (108) have been granted asylum status. According to our records, most unaccompanied children who are apprehended at the border file for asylum with USCIS more than 300 days after entering the United States. Thus, only 163 of the over 1,500 unaccompanied children who applied for asylum with USCIS this FY (through the third quarter) were apprehended at the Southwest border in FY14. Therefore, of those unaccompanied children who were both apprehended at the border and applied for asylum during FY14, USCIS has only adjudicated two cases, both of which were approved as of July 15.
USCIS also adjudicates Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) petitions filed by unaccompanied children. In FY14 (through June), over 3,900 SIJ petitions were filed, though not all by unaccompanied children.
USCIS remains strongly committed to supporting the government-wide response to the migration flows on the Southwest border, including ensuring those who have protection claims are provided the opportunity to have those claims heard.
USCIS, working with other government partners, remains steadfastly committed to fulfilling its humanitarian mission of adjudicating refugee claims around the world. In FY 2013, 69,926 refugees were admitted to the United States, the closest the refugee program has come to reaching the admissions ceiling authorized by the President in over 30 years. A record number of Iraqi refugees (19,488) were admitted in FY 2013, including 7,000 U.S.-affiliated applicants who were processed in Baghdad. While we strive each year to realize the refugee admissions ceiling in cooperation with our partners at the Department of State, we are equally committed to ensuring the integrity of the program and our nation’s security. USCIS maintains a continuous focus on improving, refining and streamlining the security check process for refugee applicants. In the year ahead, we will maintain this focus as we interview increasing numbers of Congolese and Syrian refugee applicants in Africa and the Middle East. We will also continue to carefully monitor the security situation in the locations in which we travel to ensure the safety of our officers, program partners and refugee applicants.
Over the past two years, USCIS has realigned its international footprint to better optimize its international presence and resources by adjusting staffing levels in certain international locations and closing three offices, given the significant reduction in workload in those offices following the centralization of the filing and adjudication of waiver applications in the United States. USCIS also has enhanced the integrity of its programs by expanding the use of secure boarding foils in lieu of travel letters for certain benefit types in partnership with the Department of State.
USCIS has worked with the Government of Guatemala, in partnership with the Department of State, to facilitate resolution of long-pending adoption cases filed by U.S. citizens. Guatemala has made significant progress in the past year and only 32 cases remain pending from approximately 3,000 that were in process when the Hague Adoption Convention entered into force for the U.S. on April 1, 2008.
USCIS continues to enhance the EB-5 Immigrant Investor visa program, both to improve efficiency and service delivery and to provide greater security. USCIS has centralized EB-5 program operations in Washington, D.C. This unit, augmented with staff with expertise in economics and transactional law, are dedicated solely to the review and adjudication of EB-5 petitions and applications. In May 2013, USCIS published a comprehensive policy memorandum to guide EB-5 adjudications. On the security side of the program, USCIS has expanded security checks to cover Regional Centers and executives participating in the program, and has embedded FDNS officers and intelligence professionals to work alongside EB-5 adjudications officers. In order to provide information to stakeholders, USCIS now hosts a series of quarterly stakeholder engagements.
E-Verify is a critical program within the Department that encourages and assists employers in their compliance with our immigration laws. We are doing everything we can not only to optimize performance of the system but to ensure its integrity and accuracy, improve ease of use, and expand customer services. I am committed to building on the success of this program that continues to enroll approximately 1,500 new employers per week in addition to the more than 539,000 employers already enrolled covering more than 1.6 million worksites.
The latest E-Verify accuracy study from 2012 found that the percentage of authorized workers who were not automatically confirmed declined from 0.7 percent in 2005 to 0.3 percent in 2010. The study also looked at the accuracy rate of final nonconfirmations issued by E-Verify and found that they were accurately issued to unauthorized workers 94 percent of the time.
USCIS continues to improve E-Verify’s accuracy by increasing the number of databases checked by the system and introducing quality control enhancements designed to reduce the likelihood of data entry errors. In 2012, we launched Self Check as a service that helps employees proactively identify and resolve data issues outside of the hiring process that could help prevent data mismatches with the E-Verify system. Before users can check their employment authorization records, they must pass a third party “identity assurance” quiz to ensure that the system is not being misused.
We are working hard to further improve E-Verify’s ability to detect identity fraud. USCIS has already added the ability to view photos associated with DHS-issued immigrant status documents to the system and U.S. passport photos. We have also significantly enhanced our capabilities to monitor system use for evidence of identity fraud, and in FY 2013 we began locking Social Security numbers (SSNs) in E-Verify that are suspected of fraudulent misuse. We are developing a FY 2014 enhancement to allow individuals to lock their SSNs in E-Verify so they cannot be used by others who work for E-Verify employers. And in four states, USCIS has deployed “Records and Information from DMVs for E-Verify” (RIDE) which allows employers to check the authenticity and validity of driver’s licenses and state identification cards. Talks with additional states are ongoing to continue the expansion of RIDE.
It is important to note that E-Verify is but one tool in the Department’s efforts to ensure a lawful workforce. USCIS continues to implement improvements to E-Verify this year using the $114 million in funding Congress provided for FY 2014, and we plan to further improve the system in FY 2015 and beyond. In the upcoming fiscal years, USCIS plans to increase the scalability of E-Verify’s technical infrastructure for future expansion and establish a formal process by which individuals can request a review of their final case outcomes in order to help reduce erroneous results.
USCIS has undertaken an enterprise-wide Transformation Program to transition the agency from a fragmented paper-based operational environment to a centralized and consolidated environment facilitating electronic processing requests for immigration benefits. Our goal is to modernize USCIS-wide business processes using information technology enabled re-engineering. The USCIS Transformation Program is implementing this vital initiative through the Electronic Immigration System, or ELIS. ELIS will employ the types of online customer accounts used in the private sector to manage transactions, track activities, and enhance security. The revised processes enabled by ELIS will help the agency meet customer expectations for on-demand information and immediate real-time electronic service over the Internet.
Progress has been made since the last time my predecessor as USCIS Director testified before your Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. In May 2012, USCIS deployed ELIS. The initial launch provided the core capability for electronic filing, processing and adjudicating of one benefit type. Earlier expectations had been high, and at the time of the first deployment the Transformation Program was behind schedule and over budget for this first release.
Due to the cost and schedule challenges, the Office of Management and Budget reviewed the program in March 2012. As a result of this review, we made four significant program changes.
The first change was streamlining the governance process by dispersing decisions to the lowest required level. DHS delegated acquisition and milestone gate decisions to the agency’s Transformation Executive Steering Committee to review the cost, schedule and performance of the program.
The second program change involved the methodology for developing the software. Initially, we utilized the waterfall methodology which is a classic approach to software development that involves a sequential design process with each phase being 100% completed before going to the next phase. In this approach, changes could not be incorporated easily. We are now using a development methodology known as Agile, which is used in the private sector. Agile methodology is based on iterative and incremental development. It is more flexible and offers more frequent value-added releases to USCIS ELIS.
The third program change was to simplify the system’s architecture. The deployed system has 29 proprietary Commercial-Off-The-Shelf products. The new architecture will have an open-source code framework that allows for development and production using the Department of Homeland Security Cloud services. The new architecture is using best practices and removes products that duplicate other USCIS products.
Lastly, the acquisition strategy was changed from a single developer and systems integrator to a strategy of multiple contracts for and supporting software development with the government as the integrator. This new strategy was approved two years ago by the Transformation Executive Steering Committee. We have awarded contracts to support architectural design, integration and configuration management, and coaching for agile processes. The final contracts that will support development were awarded this month with new resources starting at the end of September.
Since the initial launch of USCIS ELIS, USCIS has added more capabilities to include allowing new immigrants to pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee and foreign investors to electronically file the Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur.
The next added capability will be in the new architecture and will support the Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Residence Card. Deployment in the new architecture is expected by the end of the year. The new architecture, once completed will support multiple contractors working together, faster development and better quality. The new architecture supports rigorous and ongoing performance and end user testing before deployment. Finally, the new architecture will support operations in the DHS cloud environment. This will eventually allow for expansion should workload increase.
The overall program is expected to be completed in fiscal year 2018 or 2019; however, new user functionality will be deployed at a minimum of every four to six months. The Transformation Program remains focused on delivering innovative capabilities to support the USCIS mission. The Transformation Executive Steering Committee will continue to guide the pathway, will include all appropriate stakeholders at the table for participation during future capability development opportunities, and will strive to ensure that the capabilities are delivered on time and within budget.
USCIS Implementation of United States v. Windsor
I am very pleased to inform the Committee that USCIS took immediate and proactive action following the decision of the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor on June 26, 2013, which held unconstitutional section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA had previously required USCIS to deny marriage-based immigration benefits to same-sex married couples. Shortly after the Windsor decision, USCIS announced that it would provide couples whose same-sex marriages are lawful in the state or foreign country where they were celebrated with marriage-based immigration benefits on an equal basis with opposite-sex married couples. USCIS also took prompt action to identify and reopen, on our own motion and without fee, more than 150 cases which the agency had to deny on the basis of DOMA for a new adjudication to take full advantage of the Windsor decision. In the last year, USCIS also has received and favorably adjudicated numerous new petitions and applications seeking immigration benefits based on same-sex marriages, and we will continue to do so.
Challenges and Path Forward
While USCIS has made vast improvements in both customer service and reduced processing times, USCIS also faces significant challenges that it is working to overcome. There is a great deal to do, but there is a great deal we can do and I am excited by the opportunities which lie ahead for us. As the Director of this agency, I am committed to maintaining a strong focus on improving our performance in all program areas even in the face of challenges. We must be even more efficient out of respect for the customers who pay fees and the taxpayers who support our operations. Our customer service must continue to be enhanced. USCIS activities must continue to be transparent and we will continue to work closely with our stakeholders and the public at large to collaborate on the outcomes we collectively want and need to achieve.
I appreciate the support and interest of this Committee in our efforts. I look forward to working with you on these and other matters critical to the transparency, integrity, consistency and efficiency of our immigration system and the work of USCIS. I look forward to your questions.
Oversight of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Ensuring Agency Priorities Comply with the Law before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and National Interest on March 2015
JOINT WRITTEN TESTIMONY
SENIOR FINANCIAL OFFICIAL
U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, SERVICE CENTER OPERATIONS
U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, FIELD OPERATIONS
U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES
FOR A HEARING ON
“OVERSIGHT OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES: ENSURING AGENCY PRIORITIES COMPLY WITH THE LAW”
THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY, SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATION AND THE NATIONAL INTEREST
MARCH 3, 2015 2:30 PM
226 DIRKSEN SENATE OFFICE BUILDING
Chairman Sessions, Ranking Member Schumer, and Members of the Subcommittee, we represent U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We would ask to begin by introducing ourselves and our respective responsibilities. Joseph Moore serves as the Senior Financial Official of USCIS. Donald Neufeld serves as the USCIS Associate Director of Service Center Operations (SCOPS). Daniel Renaud serves as the USCIS Associate Director of Field Operations (FOD). The experience you see at this table represents over three-quarters of a century in the operations and administrative management of this agency, and the operational elements of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). All of us have been with USCIS since it was created in 2003, and all of us appreciate the role our agency plays in protecting the homeland, supporting the economy, providing humanitarian relief, and ensuring the orderly and expeditious flow of legal immigration. We very much appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to testify regarding the operations of USCIS and the financial management that supports those operations.
On behalf of USCIS Director Rodríguez and all of our colleagues we are grateful to the Members of this Subcommittee for your continued strong interest in USCIS and its programs. USCIS has a proud history of providing immigration benefits to individuals from all over the world. These immigration benefits support the fundamental values and needs of our nation, be they economic, humanitarian, or in the public interest. USCIS delivers these immigration benefits while being ever vigilant to identify those who seek to undermine the integrity of our immigration system—or worse—those who seek to do us physical or economic harm. USCIS is only able to accomplish its complex and vital mission through the efforts of approximately 19,000 dedicated public servants and supporting contractor personnel, each of whom proudly comes to work each day to administer our complex immigration system fairly, effectively, and professionally.
We have been asked to provide information to you regarding our agency’s financial expenditures, service centers and field operations. As this Committee is aware, until recently, our agency had been preparing to implement certain elements of the Administration’s recently announced executive actions on immigration. Since February 17th, the agency has carefully evaluated the impact of the district court injunction on these efforts and has paused on the implementation of DACA expansion and DAPA until the stay and appeal of the injunction is resolved.
Before discussing current operations, we would like to take a few minutes to provide some information on USCIS finance and expenditures. USCIS occupies a special position within the Federal Government’s fiscal structure as its operations are primarily funded by immigration and naturalization benefit fees charged to applicants and petitioners, rather than by congressional appropriations. The Immigration Examinations Fee Account (IEFA) is the primary funding source for USCIS as most immigration benefit application and petition fees collected are deposited into the IEFA and used to fund the cost of the day to day operating expenses of the agency.
In addition to the IEFA fee account, USCIS also receives funding through two additional fee accounts: the H-1B Nonimmigrant Petitioner Fee Account and the Fraud Prevention and Detection Account. The Fraud Prevention and Detection Account supports activities related to preventing and detecting fraud in the delivery of all immigration benefit types. These funds primarily support the USCIS priority of ensuring the security and integrity of the immigration system. USCIS fee accounts represented approximately 96% of the agency’s fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget.
USCIS also receives a limited amount of funding (approximately 4% of its FY 2014 budget) under the Salaries and Expenses (S&E) appropriation. These funds are provided to support the operation of the E-Verify program, and in part, the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program (CIGP). Through the S&E appropriation, USCIS ensures the integrity of the immigration system through the operation and enhancement of the E-Verify system, which aids United States employers by helping them to ensure that they are hiring only those individuals who are legally authorized to work, and promotes increased awareness and understanding of citizenship through the CIGP.
Through its network of 226 domestic and foreign offices, USCIS uses fee funding to process applications, petitions, and requests related to immigration. These include, but are not limited to:
• Family-based petitions for close relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents;
• Employment-based petitions for current and prospective employees to work in the United States, either on a temporary or permanent basis;
• Asylum and refugee applications; and
• Naturalization applications filed by those who wish to become U.S. citizens.
Legislative Authority of USCIS Fee Accounts
The three fee accounts that USCIS relies upon to provide revenues to finance ongoing agency operations were each established under differing legislative authorities. This is an important point to highlight because two of the fee accounts – the H-1B Nonimmigrant Petitioner Account and the Fraud Prevention and Detection Account – were established in statute and prescribe specific fees be charged to certain entities such that USCIS cannot change the fee charged. Conversely, the IEFA account was established by legislation which provides DHS the authority to set and adjust IEFA fees through rulemaking. The specific legislative authorities of the USCIS fee accounts are described in detail below.
Immigration Examinations Fee Account (IEFA) – As enacted in 1988, sections 286(m) and (n) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) (8 U.S.C. 1356(m) and (n)) provide:
Section (m) provides that all adjudication fees, as are designated by the Attorney General in regulations, shall be deposited as offsetting receipts into a separate account entitled "Immigration Examinations Fee Account" in the Treasury of the United States. In addition, these fees for providing adjudication and naturalization services may be set at a level that will ensure recovery of the full costs of providing all such services, including the costs of similar services provided without charge to asylum applicants or other immigrants. These fees may also be set at a level that will recover any additional costs associated with the administration of the fees collected.
Section (n) provides that all fee-based revenues deposited into the "Immigration Examinations Fee Account” shall remain available until expended to pay the expenses incurred in providing immigration adjudication and naturalization services.
Under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, these authorities are exercised by the Secretary of Homeland Security. Sections 286(m) and (n) of the INA reflect that the IEFA is a no-year account that possesses permanent, indefinite appropriation authority, as opposed to funds provided to DHS in an annual appropriation bill.
Premium Processing Fees – Premium processing authority is found in section 286(u) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1356(u)). The premium processing fee was statutorily authorized in 2000 for employment based applications and petitions and was set at $1,000. These fee receipts are to be used to provide premium processing services to business customers and to make infrastructure improvements in adjudications and customer service processes. USCIS began offering a voluntary premium processing service fee in FY 2001. In 2010, the fee was adjusted for inflation and is now set at $1,225. This is a service that allows a petitioner for a nonimmigrant worker to voluntarily pay an extra amount to ensure that the petition will be processed in 15 days. Failure on the part of USCIS to meet this processing timeframe requires that the premium fee be refunded. Premium processing fees are collected and deposited into the IEFA and, since 2010, USCIS has used them to finance the cost of its business transformation initiative, known as the Electronic Immigration System (ELIS), as well as infrastructure improvements identified as critical to sustaining USCIS operations.
Fraud Prevention and Detection Account – INA section 286(v) (8 U.S.C. 1356(v)) specifies that certain supplemental fees shall be collected and deposited into the Fraud Prevention and Detection Account, and remain available until expended. As provided under section 214(c)(12) and (13) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1184(c)(12) and (13)), a $500 Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee must be paid by an employer petitioning for a beneficiary’s initial grant of H-1B or L nonimmigrant classification, as well as a beneficiary who is changing employers within these classifications. The $500 fee is charged in addition to the base filing fee for the Form I-129 petition for nonimmigrant worker. In addition, the law further prescribes that an additional fee of $150 be paid by an employer filing a petition on behalf of an H-2B worker. This fee is also in addition to the Form I-129 base filing fee. These additional fees are used for anti-fraud purposes.
The fees that USCIS collects for deposit into this account are split between DHS, the Department of Labor and the Department of State, with each receiving one-third of the revenue collected. Funds provided by the Fraud Prevention and Detection Account represented approximately 1.5% of USCIS’ FY 2014 budget. INA Section 286(v) reflects that the Fraud Prevention and Detection Account, like the IEFA, is a no year account that possesses permanent, indefinite appropriation authority.
H-1B Nonimmigrant Petitioner Account – INA section 286(s) (8 U.S.C. 1356(s)) specifies that certain other supplemental fees shall be collected and deposited into the H-1B Nonimmigrant Petitioner Account, and remain available until expended. As provided under section 214(c)(9) and (11) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1184(c)(9) and (11)), certain employers who participate in the H‑1B program must pay $1,500 (or $750 for those petitioners who employ 25 or fewer full-time equivalent employees) in addition to the Form I-129 base filing fee. Of the amounts deposited into the H–1B Nonimmigrant Petitioner Account, 55% of the fee revenue is provided to the Department of Labor, 40% is provided to the National Science Foundation and 5% percent is retained by USCIS.
Funds provided by the H-1B Nonimmigrant Petitioner Fee Account represented less than 1% of USCIS’ FY 2014 budget. Section 286(s) of the INA reflects that the H-1B Nonimmigrant Petitioner Account also is a no year account that possesses permanent, indefinite appropriation authority.
Review of User Fees
Fees have been charged for certain immigration services since at least the enactment of the INA in 1952. The establishment of the IEFA in 1988 led to a fundamental change in the management of the fees in that the INS (now USCIS) was authorized to retain the user fees and use those fees to provide services, rather than to remit the fees to the Treasury as miscellaneous receipts, which is the case with most other federal user fees. The IEFA provides the legal basis to operate USCIS as an almost entirely fee funded agency.
The Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 (CFO Act of 1990) implemented the requirement that a federal agency perform biennial fee reviews to determine the full cost of providing fee-based services, and USCIS strictly adheres to this biennial review schedule. USCIS reviews its fees on a regular basis so that the agency can continue to provide superior service for an ever increasing number of benefits and services, while also enhancing the security and integrity of adjudication processes.
The largest fee adjustment in USCIS history came into effect on July 30, 2007, when the agency increased fees by an average of 86% for each benefit and eliminated a number of fee waivers. As a result of this historic fee adjustment, more than 95% of the agency’s budget now derives from user fees. Accordingly, in the years since DHS was created, USCIS has largely depended upon fees to fund its services, with direct appropriations being limited mainly to provide for the operation of the E-Verify program and, in recent years, the CIGP.
In accordance with the principles and guidance of the CFO Act of 1990, the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Circular A-25: User Charges, and the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board’s publication of its Statement of Federal Financial Accounting Standards 4: Managerial Cost Accounting Standards and Concepts, USCIS last adjusted its fee schedule on November 23, 2010 for the FY 2010/2011 fiscal periods. The attached table displays the current USCIS fee schedule. (Please see Appendix A).
USCIS Core Functions
USCIS performs a variety of functions that cumulatively determine the agency’s costs and, by extension, the fees that it must charge to recover those costs for providing fee-based services. While most of the functions are directly tied to the agency’s processing functions, other costs such as administrative overhead originate indirectly from those functions. The following activities represent a high level summation of the USCIS core functions for which agency spending is directed to ensure the mission of USCIS is successfully achieved.
Immigration Adjudications and Services
USCIS is responsible for determining the eligibility of immediate relatives and other family members of U.S. citizens, as well as spouses and children of lawful permanent residents (LPRs), employees of U.S. businesses, and other foreign nationals who meet specified criteria to obtain LPR or other applicable immigration status. To ensure that national security and public safety threats are recognized and addressed, USCIS conducts a combination of automated and manual biographic and biometric background checks. USCIS is committed to ensuring that immigration benefits are not granted to individuals who pose a threat to national security or public safety, or who seek to defraud the U.S. immigration system.
USCIS is responsible for naturalization, a process by which LPRs and certain other individuals (e.g., Military Naturalization under INA Section 329) may become U.S. citizens if they meet criteria established in the INA. These criteria generally include continuous residence, good moral character, literacy, and U.S. history and government knowledge requirements, as well as a willingness to take an oath to support the Constitution and laws of the United States. Individuals will only be naturalized after undergoing a rigorous background and security screening process.
Officers in the Refugee, Asylum and International Operations Directorate adjudicate refugee applications and conduct background and record checks related to some immigrant petitions abroad. The largest component of this program is the asylum officer corps, whose members interview and screen asylum applicants. Although a relatively small portion of the overall USCIS workload, it is a vital and particularly high-profile activity.
Other USCIS Immigration-Related Matters
USCIS makes determinations on a range of immigration-related benefits and services. The agency decides whether a foreign national in nonimmigrant status (e.g., F-1 student) is eligible to change to another nonimmigrant classification (e.g., H-1B worker). USCIS also provides employment authorization documents to certain aliens who meet certain conditions and provides other immigration benefits to aliens under the Secretary of Homeland Security’s discretionary authority under the INA.
Fraud Prevention and Detection
USCIS adjudicates millions of applications, petitions, and requests for immigration benefits each year. Adjudication of these various immigration and naturalization benefit requests, however, is not a simple matter of processing routine paperwork. USCIS established the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) to identify and resolve national security concerns, work with law enforcement and intelligence partners to share information, and detect and deter fraud. FDNS officers are specially trained to detect and deter systemic fraud that may be present in immigration benefit requests. Over 900 FDNS officers are located in every domestic USCIS Asylum Office, Field Office, District Office, Regional Office, Service Center, the National Benefits Center and Headquarters. FDNS officers are also posted in selected overseas locations.
In addition to the processing-related functions listed above, USCIS is also responsible for a host of administrative tasks that contribute to overhead costs, including the maintenance of agency databases and facilities, administering recruitment and hiring actions, and managing the agency’s budget and finances.
Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements
Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) is an intergovernmental information-sharing program that assists Federal, State, and local benefit-granting agencies in verifying individuals’ immigration status, or naturalized or derived citizenship, when they apply for licenses or public benefits. Customers include Federal agencies, State departments of motor vehicles, licensing bureaus, etc. SAVE is also used to verify the immigration status, or naturalized or derived citizenship, of applicants for health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). SAVE helps other government agencies ensure that only persons eligible for benefits receive them by providing relevant immigration status information.
USCIS Operational Components
USCIS administers the world’s largest immigration system that includes more than 100 immigrant and nonimmigrant classifications and more than 200 different forms and applications. In FY2014, USCIS adjudicated nearly 7 million petitions and requests, including applications for naturalization, applications for adjustment to lawful permanent residence, immigrant visa petitions (both employment and family based), nonimmigrant petitions, asylum and refugee requests, requests for humanitarian protections under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and by victims of trafficking and crimes, requests for humanitarian parole, and for a broad array of deferred action requests, among others.
In order to administer this system, USCIS employs a staff of approximately 13,000 federal employees and an additional 6,000 contractors in facilities throughout the United States and overseas. USCIS maintains four major Service Centers under its Service Center Operations Directorate, and 83 Field Offices and a National Benefits Center (NBC) under its Field Operations Directorate. USCIS distributes responsibility for processing and adjudicating various categories of applications and requests among the Field Offices and Service Centers in order to achieve maximum efficiency, reliability, consistency, and accuracy.
In addition to the Field Offices and Service Centers, USCIS also uses three centralized “lockboxes” for the initial receipt and processing of most applications, requests, and fee payments received by the agency. At the lockbox, every application and request is opened and reviewed for basic filing requirements. Once those basic requirements are met, fees are accepted, and data is captured. In order to ensure reliability and proper processing, each application and request is logged into one of the USCIS computerized tracking systems. Paper applications and requests are scanned and payments are processed. Once an application or request is accepted, a receipt is issued, and the hardcopy applications and requests are distributed to the appropriate Field Office, Service Center, or the NBC for further processing.
The Service Centers are designed to adjudicate applications, petitions and requests that do not require face to face interactions with the public. These caseloads are generally high-volume and include employment based nonimmigrant visa petitions (such as H-1Bs), family and employment-based immigrant visa petitions, employment-based applications for adjustment of status, multiple forms of humanitarian protection (including temporary protected status, protection under VAWA, and nonimmigrant status for victims of crimes and trafficking), requests for deferred action under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy guidance, and requests for deferred action related to the VAWA and U nonimmigrant programs.
The Service Center Operations Directorate comprises a Headquarters component in Washington, DC, and Service Centers located in Dallas, Texas; Laguna Niguel, California; Lincoln, Nebraska; and St. Albans, Vermont. The Service Center Operations Directorate FY2015 authorized staffing total is approximately 3,600 federal employees with contract support provided by approximately 1,500 contractors. In FY2014, these employees processed nearly 4 million applications, petitions and requests.
The Field Operations Directorate was established to oversee and manage operations that generally require personal interactions. Whenever individuals are required to appear in person before an immigration officer or they seek information in person, employees of the directorate handle the interactions. The Directorate comprises a Headquarters component in Washington, DC, and a reporting structure that includes 4 Regional Offices, 26 District Offices, and 83 Field Offices located throughout the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Field Operations Directorate’s authorized FY2015 staffing total is approximately 5,500 federal employees, with an estimated 3,040 contractors who operate in support of the Directorate’s missions.
The core work for Field Operations centers on two distinct immigration benefit types: applications from persons seeking to adjust their status to that of LPR, and applications from LPRs seeking to become United States citizens. In many cases, foreign nationals seeking LPR status are physically present in the United States. Generally, and subject to statutory and regulatory restrictions, individuals who meet the criteria for an immigrant classification and also meet statutory requirements may have their status adjusted to that of an LPR. Individuals interviewed at our offices typically seek this benefit based on a family-based immigrant classification—most commonly marriage to a United States citizen. All applicants for permanent resident status are fully vetted though multiple background and security checks, and officers who suspect fraud refer cases to FDNS for an administrative investigation. If granted adjustment of status, these individuals would then receive a Permanent Resident Card (also known as a green card) as evidence of their LPR status. Typically, Field Operations adjusts the status of over a half-million individuals during the course of a year.
While USCIS and the greater Federal Government encourage qualified persons to seek citizenship and the benefits and responsibilities that citizenship encompasses, it is ultimately the personal decision of the individual. Individuals seeking citizenship through the naturalization process must appear in person before a USCIS officer, normally at a field office. There, USCIS will conduct an examination of the applicant. All applicants are thoroughly vetted, and must meet multiple statutory requirements and take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and laws of the United States in order to obtain citizenship. Typically, USCIS naturalizes over 700,000 persons during the course of a year, though during periods in advance of national elections our filings for naturalization typically increase, as individuals seek to participate in the democratic process through voting in those elections.
In addition to the District and Field Offices, the Field Operations Directorate also includes components that perform specialty functions. These include:
National Benefits Center: Located in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, the NBC, established in 2000 to process cases filed to qualify for provisions under the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act, now performs a number of operations that generally support field offices. Among these operations are scheduling cases for biometrics collection and interviews, preparing cases for interview by conducting and recording the results of required background checks, creating and consolidating A-files, and shipping files to the field offices for adjudication. The NBC also performs the majority of all adjudications of domestically-filed requests for inter-country adoptions, Permanent Resident Card renewals and replacements, and provisional waivers of unlawful presence.
Investor Program Office: In 2014, the Investor Program Office was consolidated under the Field Operations Directorate and relocated from the California Service Center to Washington, DC. This program adjudicates petitions for EB-5 immigrant investor visas. The move allows greater oversight of this important program, while also allowing USCIS to leverage expertise in areas of financial transactions, economics, business planning, intelligence, and other subjects necessary for efficient and accurate adjudication.
USCIS is committed to fulfilling its mission to secure America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system. In accomplishing this task the agency relies upon its abilities to accurately forecast workload demands and the associated fee revenues so that it is able to responsibly and professionally operate within an often uncertain fiscal climate. This uncertainty is attributable to volatility inherent in relying on fee collections that are directly tied to applicant and petitioner demands that change each year.
USCIS recognizes that certain form types require special attention because they must be processed within certain time periods due to reasons of statute, regulation or humanitarian considerations. Understanding this, USCIS conducts production planning, staffing analysis, and resource allocation decisions as a matter of routine business operations. Through a long-standing practice of carefully tracking the receipt, progress and inventory of cases received from customers, USCIS is able to ensure the most efficient allocation of resources to support the timely processing of every form type we receive. Whenever USCIS receives a sudden or unexpected increase in workload, a detailed analysis of the factors causing the surge is performed, and resources allocated to minimize delay in any program, especially those with urgent humanitarian or statutory requirements. By keeping a focus on special emphasis form types, we are able to make initial risk-based resource allocation decisions so that all USCIS customers are given the attention and service they deserve.
In 2015, USCIS faces challenges that are common to most large federal agencies, while also addressing challenges that are unique to our agency. Keeping our agency fully staffed with the most qualified persons is one such common challenge. As for other federal agencies operating in large, high-cost metropolitan areas, it is often challenging for USCIS to recruit and retain qualified candidates. Once hired, new officers must be fully trained in immigration law and
procedures, fraud detection and interviewing techniques, and cultural awareness. USCIS must also prepare officers dedicated to specialized programs such as asylum, refugee, and EB-5 with additional training and tools.
Quality and integrity in the adjudication and decision-making processes are areas that demand constant attention. In order to integrate quality into every facet of the adjudication process, USCIS decided to transition from traditional production-based goals to a performance structure that focuses on the quality of work products. This shift will ensure that immigration benefit decisions are informed, adhere to the law and the facts, and further the integrity and goals of the immigration system. This retooling has largely been successful. Officers, free from the traditional production quotas, now take a greater degree of ownership in the decision making process. However, officers are more conscious of the responsibilities that their decisions reflect, and thus take more time to make them. Therefore, processing times have increased in some of our offices and with some of our types of adjudication. Needless to say, this concerns us. To address this management challenge, we are working to perfect a model where we remain quality driven, but are also able to render the right decision on any type of case before us in a reasonable amount of time. As stated, USCIS will not sacrifice the integrity of the adjudication process to speed up a decision on a case. The agency consistently works to maximize its efficiency and is flexible about where work is assigned to best achieve it.
We are proud of the work that we and our USCIS colleagues around the world perform. Recognizing the importance of providing immigration services that support humanitarian, family reunification, and economic goals of our country, we strive to do our work with the greatest of integrity and efficiency. We hope that our testimony provides the Members with a glimpse into the challenges we face, the care with which we address them, and finally, the successes that we achieve.
On behalf of USCIS Director Rodríguez and our leadership team and colleagues, we thank you Chairman Sessions, Ranking Member Schumer, and Members of the Subcommittee for the opportunity to share this information concerning USCIS expenditures and operations with you today. We will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.
USCIS - Immigration Benefits Fees
Form and Description
I-90 Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card
I-102 Application for Replacement/Initial Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Record
I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
I-129F Petition for Alien Fiance(e)
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative
I-131 Application for Travel Document
I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker
Waiver Forms (I-191, I-192, I-193,I-212, I-601, I-612)
I-290B Appeal for any decision other than BIA
Motion to reopen or reconsider decision other than BIA
I-360 Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant
I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur
I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status
I-600, 600A/I-800, 800A Orphan Petitions
I-687 Application for Status as a Temporary Resident under Sections 245A or 210 of the Immigration and Nationality Act
I-690 Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility
I-694 Notice of Appeal of Decision under Sections 245A or 210 of the Immigration and Nationality Act
I-698 Application to Adjust Status From Temporary to Permanent Resident (Under Section 245A of Pub. L. 99-603).
I-751 Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence
I-765 Application for Employment Authorization
I-800A Supplement 3 Request for Action on Approved Form I-800A
I-817 Application for Family Unity Benefits
I-821 Application for Temporary Protected Status
I-824 Application for Action on Approved Application or Petition
I-829 Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions
I-881 Application for Suspension of Deportation or Special Rule Cancellation of Removal (Pursuant to Section 203 of Pub. L. 105-110)
I-905 Application for Authorization to Issue Certification for Health Care Workers
I-907 Request for Premium Processing Service
Civil Surgeon Designation
I-924 Application for Regional Center Under the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program
I-929 Petition for a Qualifying Family Member of a U-1 Nonimmigrant
N-300 Application to File Declaration of Intention
N-336 Request for Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Procedures
N-400 Application for Naturalization
N-470 Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes
N-565 Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document
N-600/600K Application for Certification of Citizenship
Eroding the Law and Diverting Taxpayer Resources an Examination of the Administration’s Central before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary by USCIS Associate Director Joseph Langlois
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, REFUGEE, ASYLUM AND INTERNATIONAL OPERATIONS DIRECTORATE
U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES
FOR A HEARING ON
“Eroding the Law and Diverting Taxpayer Resources: an Examination of the Administration’s Central America Minors Refugee/Parole Program”
THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATION AND THE NATIONAL INTEREST
APRIL 23, 2015 2:30 PM
226 DIRKSEN SENATE OFFICE BUILDING
Chairman Sessions and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee: Thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing on the Central American Minors Refugee and Parole Program. I am Joseph Langlois, the Associate Director of the Refugee, Asylum and International Operations (RAIO) Directorate within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). I supervise the overseas refugee program and certain parole programs within USCIS, and my testimony today will focus on the Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee and Parole Program.
The CAM Program is a new in-country refugee and parole processing program in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala that provides certain minors from those countries a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey across the Southwest border to reach the United States.
USCIS’s Role in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP)
Before turning to the CAM Program, however, I would like to provide an overview of USCIS’s role in refugee resettlement. USCIS works in close partnership with other components within DHS and with colleagues at the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to meet the USRAP’s mission of offering resettlement opportunities to eligible refugees while safeguarding the integrity of the program and our national security.
As you know, the United States has a proud, long-standing tradition of offering protection, freedom, and opportunity to refugees from around the world who live in fear of persecution and are often left to languish in refugee camps and other difficult situations overseas. USCIS remains dedicated to fulfilling this mission, in partnership with PRM and ORR, and continuing the United States’ leadership role in humanitarian protection. An integral part of this mission is to ensure that refugee resettlement opportunities are provided to those who are eligible for such protection and do not present a risk to the safety and security of our country. We are committed to deterring and detecting fraud among those seeking to resettle in the United States, and we continue to employ the highest security measures to protect our national security.
As a representative of USCIS, I can assure you that this dedication to our humanitarian and national security mandates is shared inside and outside of DHS. The refugee resettlement program has forged strong and deep relationships with the law enforcement, national security, and intelligence communities, and we continue to benefit enormously from their expertise, analysis, and collaboration. It simply would not be possible for us to support a resettlement program of the size and scope that the United States has maintained for many years without this critical interagency infrastructure.
As I mentioned above, USRAP is a shared responsibility of the State Department and USCIS. The State Department is responsible for the overarching coordination and management of the USRAP, including determining which individuals or refugee groups are considered to be "of special humanitarian concern to the United States" under section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and are therefore qualified to access the USRAP for resettlement consideration. Determinations regarding the overall refugee admissions ceiling, regional admission allocations, and processing priorities are only made following formal, annual consultations with Congress, as required under the INA.
USCIS is responsible for conducting individual, in-person interviews with applicants to determine their eligibility for refugee protection. In 2005, to maximize flexibility and program integrity, USCIS created the Refugee Corps. The Refugee Corps is a cadre of specially-trained USCIS officers who are dedicated to adjudicating applications for refugee protection overseas. These officers are based in Washington, D.C., but they travel around the world to the locations where refugees reside. In addition, USCIS has a small number of officers posted at embassies overseas and assigns well-trained officers from other programs—such as the Asylum Corps and Office of the Chief Counsel—to supplement the Refugee Corps. Using this model, USCIS has been able to respond to an increasingly diverse population in the refugee admissions program.
Recognizing that a well-trained cadre of officers is critical to protecting the integrity of the refugee process, we have focused our efforts on providing the highest quality training to refugee adjudicators. In addition to the basic training required of all USCIS officers, refugee officers receive five weeks of specialized training that includes comprehensive instruction on all aspects of the job, including refugee law, grounds of inadmissibility, fraud detection and prevention, security protocols, interviewing techniques, credibility analysis, and country conditions research. Before deploying overseas, officers also receive pre-departure training, which focuses on the specific population that they will be interviewing. This training includes information on the types of refugee claims that they are likely to encounter, detailed country of origin information, and updates on any fraud trends or security issues that have been identified.
In order to fully explore refugee claims and to identify any possible grounds of ineligibility, specially-trained USCIS adjudicators conduct an in-person, in-depth interview of every principal refugee applicant. The officer assesses the credibility of the applicant and evaluates whether the applicant’s testimony is consistent with known country conditions and all available evidence. These adjudicators also interview each accompanying family member age 14 and older to determine his or her admissibility to the United States. In addition, refugee applicants are subject to robust security screening protocols to identify potential fraud, criminal or national security issues. All refugee status determinations made by interviewing officers undergo supervisory review before a final decision is made.
Establishing the CAM Program
The President makes determinations regarding the number of admissions under the USRAP each fiscal year after appropriate consultations with Congress in accordance with section 207 of the INA. Under that process, the Executive Branch provides a report to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, which is followed by in-person consultations between a Cabinet-level representative and Members of the Judiciary Committees. This year’s report, submitted to Congress on September 17, 2014, and made available to the public the next day, described plans to launch the CAM Program, along with other in-country refugee programs planned for FY 2015. The CAM Program was also discussed with Committee and Subcommittee staff in preparation for the formal consultations. This year, Secretary Kerry provided the consultations with
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, while Secretary Johnson engaged in consultations with the House Committee. President Obama signed the Presidential Determination for FY 2015 on September 30, 2014, including the authorization for in-country refugee processing in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Vice President Biden announced the CAM Program publicly on November 14, 2014, at the Inter-American Development Bank as part of a broader U.S. commitment to working with Central American countries to help create the economic, social, governance, and security conditions to address factors contributing to increases in migration to the United States. Since that time, USCIS has worked closely with the Department of State and the White House to develop and implement the CAM Program, which began accepting applications on December 1, 2014. The USRAP has received 565 applications as of April 20, 2015, which are in various stages of prescreening before they are ready for USCIS interview: 439 for individuals in El Salvador, 114 for individuals in Honduras and 12 for individuals in Guatemala. As I mentioned earlier, the purpose of the CAM Program is to provide qualified children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey across the Southwest border to the United States.
CAM Program Eligibility and Processing
The CAM Program allows certain parents lawfully present in the United States to request a refugee resettlement interview for their unmarried children under the age of 21 in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The CAM program is not a pathway for undocumented parents to bring children to the United States. In addition, under certain circumstances, a parent with whom the child resides in one of the three countries will also be eligible to access the resettlement program in order to maintain family unity. This provision only applies if: (1) the parent seeking resettlement is part of the same household and economic unit as the qualifying child; (2) he or she is legally married to the qualifying parent at the time the qualifying parent in the United States files the CAM-Affidavit of Relationship; and (3) he or she continues to be legally married to the qualifying parent.
A multistep application process is in place whereby the parent or parents in the United States first contact a local resettlement agency, which helps them submit a request for refugee resettlement interviews for eligible children to the Department of State. In order to ensure that vulnerable children are not exploited by this program, we require DNA testing to verify that claimed biological parent-child relationships are genuine. This is comparable to the preexisting practice for DNA testing for family-based access to the resettlement program, known as "Priority 3." Once the Department of State receives DNA test results confirming the parent-child relationship, a USCIS officer will conduct an in-country interview with each applicant child to determine whether he or she is eligible for refugee resettlement. This includes a determination of whether he or she meets the refugee definition in INA section 101(a)(42) and is otherwise admissible to the United States.
Individuals who are determined not to meet the definition of a refugee but still to be at risk of harm will be considered on a case-by-case basis for a discretionary grant of parole. Parole allows certain individuals to enter the United States temporarily for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit. A separate parole application and interview is not required to be considered for parole under the CAM Program; USCIS will make parole determinations based on the information elicited at the refugee interview. To grant parole under this program, USCIS must find that the individual is at risk of harm in his or her country and that the applicant merits a favorable exercise of discretion. Individuals granted parole under this program generally will be authorized to remain in the United States for an initial period of two years. Parole does not, in itself, lead to any permanent immigration status. To seek to remain in parole status in the United States, an individual will need to apply for re-parole prior to the expiration of parole status.
DHS has implemented combined refugee and parole programs previously. For example, from 1988-2011, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and then USCIS offered parole on a case-by-case basis to individuals from the former Soviet Union who were denied refugee status. From 1989-1999, INS also offered parole to certain Vietnamese applicants denied refugee status under the Orderly Departure Program.
All applicants under the CAM Program will be subject to thorough background screening, including biographic and biometric security checks. These are among the most thorough for any immigration benefit. For those who are approved for refugee protection, the State Department has a well-established process to conduct medical examinations and to schedule travel to the United States. Refugees receive a loan to pay for their travel, which they are required to repay. In order to receive approval for parole, an applicant must undergo medical screening at his or her own expense. Unlike those approved for refugee protection, individuals approved for parole will not be eligible for travel loans. To ensure the safety of children traveling, USCIS will require as a condition of parole that the family arrange travel to the United States through an approved intermediary.
As stated previously, to date, USCIS has not yet interviewed any applicants for refugee or parole status through this program in any of the three countries. The USCIS Refugee Affairs Division expects to begin conducting interviews as soon as cases have completed the prescreening process and become ready for interview. Given that interviews have yet to take place this fiscal year, there will likely be relatively few minors from Central America who will be admitted under this program to the United States in FY 2015.
USCIS is committed to offering protection to qualified refugees, while maintaining a strong, unequivocal position to combat fraud and safeguard national security. The same rigorous security screening protocols that are in place for other refugee populations are being employed with this program. Well-trained USCIS officers will conduct thorough interviews of all applicants to elicit their claims, evaluate them based on known country conditions information, and assess applicants’ credibility.
USCIS will continue to work cooperatively with the State Department to implement this program. Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be happy to answer any questions.
USCIS Partners with City of Atlanta to Support Citizenship Education and Awareness
ATLANTA – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director León Rodríguez and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed signed a letter of agreement today to begin a partnership to strengthen citizenship education and awareness efforts. The agreement will remain in effect until December 2017.
“Our partnership with Atlanta will strengthen local efforts to help aspiring citizens find the information and resources needed to succeed during the naturalization process,” said Rodríguez. “USCIS is proud to join forces with Mayor Reed to expand citizenship education and awareness efforts and to support permanent residents as they consider the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship.”
During today’s signing at City Hall, Rodríguez and Reed highlighted the need to incorporate all sectors of society in a determined effort to support aspiring citizens and create more welcoming communities. They discussed plans to establish “Citizenship Corners” at Atlanta-Fulton Public Library branches to make official USCIS citizenship preparation materials more easily accessible to newcomers. USCIS also plans to train librarians and other city officials about the naturalization process and the free preparation resources available to immigrant library patrons.
“The contributions of immigrants and foreign-born residents to the cultural and economic fabric of Atlanta are irrefutable,” said Mayor Kasim Reed. “In the City of Atlanta, immigrants are over-represented among the self-employed, and across our state, new immigrant business owners generate business revenue of $2.9 billion a year. Despite their proven value to our city, thousands of our eligible residents have not yet completed the naturalization process. That’s why I’m thrilled to announce a joint commitment with USCIS to expand access to citizenship in Atlanta, with all its privileges and responsibilities.”
USCIS and the City of Atlanta also plan to:
Provide citizenship information through public schools, community centers, and other city facilities.
Expand community partnerships to hold naturalization information sessions throughout Atlanta.
Raise public awareness about immigration services scams.
Air citizenship education videos and public service announcements highlighting the letter of agreement on the city’s public access television station, Channel 26, and city websites.
Atlanta is USCIS’ fourth municipal partner, joining Los Angeles, Chicago and the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.
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