Administration orders turn immigration service agency into mechanism for deportation

SILVER SPRING, Maryland — In another policy change that could dramatically increase the number of legal immigrants who face deportation, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, in guidance made public July 5, said that almost everyone who is denied an immigration benefit will be issued a Notice to Appear in court for potential deportation.

The change is a marked departure from the historic role of USCIS, the agency which processes applications for immigration benefits such as green cards, work authorization and naturalization. When the Department of Homeland Security was created by Congress in 2003, its customer service responsibilities were made distinct from the enforcement functions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

“This violates the intent of Congress in establishing USCIS as a customer service agency, instead turning it into a piece of the administration’s deportation machinery, using any excuse to remove immigrants from the United States, even after they have done everything in their power to work within the system and make it their home,” said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. “This is an outright intimidation tactic, meant to discourage people from applying for various immigration benefits for which they qualify.”

The new policy requires USCIS to issue a Notice to Appear in almost all cases where a request for an immigration benefit has been denied in order to take steps towards deporting the person.

CLINIC’s Advocacy Director Jill Marie Bussey said that using the agency created for customer service and application processing as a means to deport people flies in the face of the intended function of USCIS.

“Our legal immigration system is designed to promote U.S. values and interests, to attract the best and the brightest to our workforce, to keep families together, and to protect the homeland by ensuring people are vetted and accounted for,” Bussey said. “Using USCIS as an arm of deportation deprives us of those benefits, and unequivocally makes our country less prosperous and less safe.”

Atkinson called on members of Congress to conduct a thorough investigation into the changes in the mission and operations of USCIS, to ensure the laws are upheld and that taxpayer dollars are properly spent.