After 9/11/2001, the government created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This department deals with immigration-related matters. Congress divided DHS into three separate branches: U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Service (USCIS), Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The goal was to separate immigration service from enforcement.
Congress meant for USCIS to function as the service-based immigration and citizenship branch of DHS. The other two branches (CBP and ICE) serve as immigration enforcement. However, the Trump Administration has blurred the clear lines Congress created to separate these branches.
In the last two years, with the Trump Administration’s drastic changes in policy, USCIS has evolved into a third immigration enforcement tool by:
- Working with ICE to stage deportation traps for applicants trying to lawfully gain immigration benefits.
- Imposing a policy that expands USCIS’s ability to place an applicant in deportation proceedings.
- Issuing a memo that gives immigration officers more discretion to deny. For example, applications can now be denied for innocent filing mistakes without giving applicants the chance to correct the mistake. This affects individuals lacking legal representation that may not fully understand what evidence is needed.
- Issuing guidance increasing the likelihood that foreign students and exchange visitors could face bans on re-entering the United States.
- Creating crisis-level processing delays and application backlogs that may result in an applicants’ loss of immigration status while awaiting approval.
- Prioritizing ICE’s work over its own by transferring over $200 million in application fees to ICE to hire over 300 ICE enforcement officers.
It is clear that USCIS is no longer what Congress intended. USCIS’s shift to immigration-enforcement is unsettling and is not what our immigration community deserves. As we are fully aware of the Trump Administration’s assault on USCIS as a service-based immigration agency, we do our best to protect and prepare our clients.