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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy

CIS Ombudsman Holds First Annual Conference

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I'm on the flight home after an interesting and productive day attending a great conference organized by CIS Ombudsman January Contreras and her team. Ombudsman Contreras kicked off the program with an introduction to what her office handles and then she introduced Cecilia Munoz, the White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. Ms. Munoz has a lot to do with the President's immigration policies. Cecilia didn't get in to a lot of specifics, but my big takeaway was that she is interested in making USCIS operate as transparently as possible.

Following this, I attended one of three break out programs. Mine was a panel on employment immigration featuring Lynn Shotwell of the American Council on International Personnel, Amy Nice of the US Chamber of Commerce and Linda Rahal, an immigration lawyer. Fred Troncone of the Ombudsman's office moderated. The common theme amongst the panelists was that the number of USCIS requests for evidence has skyrocketed, making the immigration system unpredictable and causing a great deal of harm to employers and their beneficiary employees. The questions were as interesting as the presentations, particularly because some senior USCIS folks were in the audience. My friend Angelo Paparelli asked about why examiners never seem to get fired even when they are not making quality adjudications. I asked a related question on whether examiners are properly being assigned to cases matched to their qualifications (for example, should an examiner with minimal education be adjudicating an O-1 petition for a top flight scientist). I asked the question because I've heard senior USCIS officials complain privately about problems of this nature. One USCIS official did come to the microphone and explained that this was an issue of concern to them and a new initiative has resulted in a substantial number of recent hires of bachelors degree holders in the adjudicator ranks. Also, more and better training is being provided. Still, it's a big problem. I also asked a question on whether there is a correlation between a pronounced drop in the number of cases handled per examiners and the dramatic rise in RFEs. In other words, idle hands are the devil's tools. Prakash Katri, the former Ombudsman suggested something similar arguing that more USCIS funds received from higher filing feees have had the opposite effect of what is intended. More money means the need to justify more employees and this has led to too much time being spent adjudicating cases by examiners who seek to unnecessarily drag out the process with unneccesary evidence requests.*

Following lunch, we heard an address from USCIS Directory Alejandro Mayorkas. He made an interesting announcement regarding I-797s that pertained to lawyers no longer getting the approval notices for their clients. USCIS has backed down and will reverse that decision within a few weeks based on overwhelmingly negative feedback. He pointed out that the agency needed to do a better job getting feedback from the public before policies like this are changed rather than having to backtrack later. Here, here. He also indicated that the controversial use of the VIBE database was closely being studied to determine if it was helping or hindering adjudications. Director Mayorkas talked about the new EB-5 initiative that will allow examiners and applicants to discuss cases by email before decisions are issued rather than having to necessarily issue an RFE. The news here is that he would like to extend this to every product line, something that will potentially greatly approve the adjudication process. At question time, I asked about a pet cause of mine - the plight of individuals on visas who are laid off. USCIS used to be sympathetic to change of employer applications that might be filed a little late and they used to regularly approve B-1 visitor status applications for people who were laid off and needed to have a little time to find new employment or at least wrap up there affairs, allow kids to finish out the semester, etc. Now those cases are routinely denied. I noted that this is my third recession since becoming an immigration lawyer and in the other two, USCIS seemed to have a lot more of a heart than they do today. Director Mayorkas seemed genuinely surprised to hear about this subject and promised to look in to it.*

After lunch, it was my turn to present. I was invited to speak on a panel of bloggers along with friends Jason Dzubow and Angelo Paparelli (both fellow bloggers at and my friend Eleanor Pelta, the current president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. We spoke on the role of bloggers in influencing the public debate on immigration. I kicked off the panel with a talk on the history of immigration blogging going right back to my first blog in 1997 which happens to have been the first law related blog in history.

Screen Shot 2011-10-20 at 5.42.42 PM

The blog was devoted to the subject of a proposed increase in the number of H-1B visas, something that passed and from 1998 to 2001, we had an annual H-1B quota of 195,000. Incidentally, I didn't call my online diary a blog. That term was coined a few months later.

Jason Dzubow talked about blogger ethics and the challenges we face. Angelo gave an eloquent talk about the importance of not being afraid to upset the agencies we blog about and gave a particularly interesting example of this when he showed a recent blog post on how the obsession with rooting out fraud at USCIS has seriously compromised the ability of the agency to function. The post itself is very interesting, but Angelo showed hit traffic for the post and it identified 618 page views from servers, indicating that a number of people at the agency saw what he had to write. Eleanor Pelta talked about the development of AILA's leadership blog and the variety of missions it serves including advocating on public policy, educating the public, calling out officials for doing the right thing as well as the wrong thing and also telling the stories of the people we represent who may not always be able to have their voices heard. She mentioned as an example a specific blog post I wrote for the blog regarding explaining the dangers of ending birthright citizenship.*

Finally, I attended a great session providing a thorough overview of the rules surrounding priority dates. Charles Wheeler, a private practice lawyer kicked off with a comprehensive overview of how dates are established, lost and converted. He was followed by Charles Oppenheim, the Department of State official who for years has written the monthly Visa Bulletin that I know many who read this blog follow closely. Charles is the man who sets the cut off dates each month and he explained in great detail how that process works and what factors he considers. His overarching goal is to make sure that as many of the green cards allocated by Congress in each fiscal year are used because there are no provisions for numbers to spill over (something that Congress genuinely needs to address). This might mean, for example, *being careful to allocate numbers closer to the beginning of the fiscal year (October 1st) rather than the end since failing to get cases adjudicated in time over the summer could mean green card numbers are wasted. Mr. Oppenheim talked about looking at prior years to get a sense of historical patterns of usage, but noted that forecasting visa usage is not always easy and he's been really surprised in the past.*

I'm en route home now, but did want to extend my thanks again to Ms. Contreras for the invitation as well as Director Mayorkas for his faithful efforts to turn the ship at USCIS and turn it in to the agency that helps stoke our economic engines rather than the reverse. Hopefully, Janet Napolitano recognizes that she's got two outstanding officials heading up both these organizations.*


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  1. George Chell's Avatar
    CIS? Citizenship and Immigration Service? or the racist Center for Immigration Studies? I am a bit confused!
  2. Backlogged's Avatar
    " big takeaway was that she is interested in making USCIS operate as transparently as possible" - really? because their actions have been anything but transparency. Ask any immigrant who had to deal with USCIS and I am sure they would have wonderful things to say about USCIS. Like the president, all they do is yap about their idealistic view and do just the opposite from unwarranted RFEs and that includes Department of State and the highly esteemed Mr.Oppenheim, incharge of visa bulletins, who wouldnt even release the demand statistics of family based visa issuance and either ends up with visas wasted or spilled over because of a flawed mechanism of predicting the cutoff dates and yet maintains all is fair and square.
  3. Greg Siskind's Avatar
    Backlogged - Don't get me wrong. What the White House and senior leaders at USCIS say and what is actually happening are often disconnected. But what they say is important because when we fight for change, there is nothing better than reminding USCIS of what they are publicly claiming. Transparency is a theme they like to repeat. When they act in a way that is not transparent, it's easier to hold their feet to the fire when we remind them of what their own leadership is saying.
  4. Greg Siskind's Avatar
    George - The CIS Ombudsman is part of the Department of Homeland Security but is a separate agency from USCIS. I believe that's why they don't call themselves USCIS Ombudsman. CIS stands for Citizenship and Immigration Services. They are charged with being the public's watchdog agency in charge of monitoring USCIS and recommending changes as well as helping to resolve problems.
  5. Backlogged's Avatar
    Greg, the very set up of CIS is mired in bureaucracy, not transparency.Just for example how many agencies a LPR has to deal with or have to work together (for F2A,for applying a petition for his/her spouse ) - USCIS, NVC, Department of State and consulates. Each agency has different tasks evaluating/processing the application and each blame one another for delays or non processing and end "loser" if you will, is the petitioner/beneficiary. Why cant a single organization oversee everything, right from adjudicating petitions to releasing visa bulletin or having checks and balances? But that would mean, less bureaucracy and less money being fleeced from beneficiaries? So does Ms.Munoz has any plan to make it streamlined - No!Although USCIS can introduce more bureaucratic procedures like Neufeld memos, it cant do anything about recapturing wasted visas or anything of visas still wasted, thanks to DOS who control the visa numbers and pass the blame to consulates/USCIS for not coordinating.
  6. George Chell's Avatar
    Greg, Thanks. Sometimes I am so focussed on the racists at Center for Immigration Studies that I forget about the other CIS, USCIS.
  7. Backlogged F2A Petitioner's Avatar

    Thanks for the update. Mr. Oppenheim Charles must release demand statistics for family based visas as he does for EB categories before releasing visa bulletin every month. He and DOS blames Consulates for wasting F2A visas, however NVC blames DOS for not releasing priority dates. Who is to blame- I think Mr. Oppemheim who is responsible for setting priority dates each Month. In the last few years, HE HAS WASTED AS LOW AS 10000 F2A visa each year. Is he got a humane nature within him-how many young families are separated because of HIS MISTAKE. In the end of 2010, he said F2A will soon be current and it is backlogged to 2009. He continued to LIE Everyone that there is a LESS DEMAND until LAST year to MILK MORE MONIES to DOS/NVC and moved DATES backward.

    Can he live Away from his family for few MONTHS- only then he will understand the feelings of people whose cases kept delayed because of HIS Past Mistakes.

    The Legal Permanent Residents, are being punished for becoming Permanent Resident of this country, by not letting to be reunited with their spouses and young children. It is a INHUMAE thing that US has been practicing and NO ONE has courage to talk about- Yes we are all Cowards. When many so called non-immigrants can bring in their spouses and kids, no numerical limit set, they are called non-immigrant but eventually they become immigrants. US must eliminate "DAY SYNDROME" where if someone gets GC a day after marriage, spouse given GC right away and in opposite if someone marries the next day after s/he gets GC, spouse have to wait for 3-6 years before getting GC.

    US immigration policies, especially for F2A filers, are INHUMANE in nature. Either US govt or President does not have right to advocate the world about Inhumane activities practiced around the world.
    Politicians do not want to talk about this issue because LPR's not united and do not money to pay for Lobbyists.
  8. combat krav maga's Avatar
    Americans follow a pattern in schools, coffee shops, theater, bathrooms, grocery stores, port of entry, you name it, it's everywhere, they form a line. They serve a purpose. Why would they give preference to who stand in the first??? it is First come First server basis. . Think, What would happen for example, if they start from last? First person will wait there forever. That is exactly what happens in Employment based immigration today, because of Law loopholes, and the irony is no one cares about it.
  9. Divorce Mediation Los Angeles's Avatar
    Thank you, thank you, thank you. After i send all required documents to Ombudsman i got my Green card in 1 month!!! (my husbands GC was approved 2 month early)
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