Tuesday, February 07, 2012

USCIS criticized in Inspector General's report for "getting to yes" and being "owned" by immigration attorneys; it didn't cite EB-5, but maybe it could have

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the federal agency in charge of the EB-5 immigrant investor program, has recently come under fire by its own parent agency for going too far to help potential immigrants.

While the criticism, raised by the Inspector General of the parent Department of Homeland Security (DHS), does not address cases within the immigrant investor program, it suggests that USCIS has a "get to yes" culture and is also too much in the sway of private immigration attorneys--both of which, by my observation, apply to the EB-5 program.

The issue was first raised in a 1/5/12 article in The Daily, which got a copy of the DHS report.

The report, The Effects of USCIS Adjudication Procedures and Policies on Fraud Detection by Immigration Services Officers, was produced by the Acting Inspector General of DHS – Charles K. Edwards and dated January 2012.

Too much pressure

One field office manager described USCIS as “very production driven,” with severe time pressures, according to the report:
When asked how well USCIS balances national security and promoting immigration, 130 of 252 respondents (51.6%) said that USCIS policy is too heavily weighted toward promoting immigration. Only 25 of 251 respondents (10%) concluded that they have sufficient time to complete interviews of those who seek immigration benefits. On another question, 63 of 254 ISOs [Immigration Service Officers] (24.8%) responded that they have been pressured to approve questionable applications. Although fewer than one in four respondents had this concern, we view the number of pressured ISOs as a threat to the integrity of the benefit issuance system. 
The Inspector General suggested additional staff and more time.

Special treatment

The report suggested undue influence from immigration lawyers:
Recent examples exist of senior leaders disagreeing with the statements made in requests for special treatment. One senior manager provided email messages that showed headquarters defending ISO decisions or challenging a private attorney’s views. Nonetheless, numerous staff said that private attorneys will often complain to management, which leads to special review of cases. We examined email messages where these requests were granted. Survey respondents and interviewees noted that this type of pressure compromises the adjudications process, and therefore the overall USCIS mission. A survey respondent wrote of a sense that private immigration attorneys are “running our offices.”

...ISOs and managers in some USCIS offices said that efforts to undercut some denial decisions waste USCIS resources and send an implicit message to approve petitions and eliminate outside complaints. We were informed that special treatment remains prevalent. An ISO said that the American Immigration Lawyers Association “owns” USCIS. USCIS is aware of this perception and has taken some steps to treat this organization less uniquely. For example, a regularly scheduled conference call with the association is now open to other interested parties.
I'd add that the conference call with EB-5 stakeholders does not include anyone, other than the occasional policy critic, who doesn't make money from the program.

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