Rubber Stamp

Sarah Ryley, The Daily, January 3, 2012

Higher-ups within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are pressuring rank-and-file officers to rubber-stamp immigrants’ visa applications, sometimes against the officers’ will, according to a Homeland Security report and internal documents exclusively obtained by The Daily.

A 40-page report, drafted by the Office of Inspector General in September but not publicly released, details the immense pressure immigration service officers are under to approve visa applications quickly, sometimes while overlooking concerns about fraud, eligibility or security.

One-quarter of the 254 officers surveyed said they have been pressured to approve questionable cases, sometimes “against their will.”

The report does not call out any particular officials and indicates that the agency has had a problem with valuing quantity over quality since at least the 1980s.

But high-ranking USCIS officials said the pressure has heightened after the Obama administration appointed Alejandro Mayorkas as director in August 2009 during an effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform, bringing with him a mantra of “get to yes.”

Internal communications provided to The Daily indicate that the new leadership seemed to fundamentally clash with career agency employees over when to afford the benefit of the doubt, culminating in a whistle-blower investigation into a senior appointee and, ultimately, the agency-wide inspector general inquiry that produced the report.

“We recognize their right to interpret things as liberally as possible, but you still have to follow the law,” said one high-ranking official who was unhappy with the current push.

At least five agency veterans seen as being too tough on applicants were either demoted, or given the choice between a demotion or a relocation from Southern California—where their families were—to San Francisco and Nebraska, according to sources and letters of reassignment provided to The Daily.

Those kinds of threats have caused lower-level employees to fall in line, sources said.

“People are afraid,” said one longtime manager, who requested anonymity for fear of being fired. “Integrity only carries people so far because they’ve got to pay the rent.”

A rank-and-file officer who was not involved in the investigation claimed he was demoted to working on less technical cases because he had a high denial rate. “They don’t reprimand you, they just move you,” he said.

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