The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency with the Department of Homeland Security, was created in 2002 and assumed its functions on March 1, 2003, as a result of the Homeland Security Act of 2002. USCIS has over 200 offices around the world and staffs 19,000 employees and contractors in four directorates and nine program offices. Applications are processed in four major USCIS Service Centers and 83 Field Offices in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Guam.
Funding USCIS operations largely from user fees, less than 4 percent of its FY2014 budget came from Congressional appropriations. According to William A. Kandel, writing in a Congressional Service Report in May 2015, $124 million USCIS funding came from direct congressional appropriations and $3.097 billion came from user fees in 2014. http://fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/R44038.pdf
Over twenty years ago, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was transformed by creating the Immigration Examinations Fee Account (IEFA) in 1988 to fund the agency’s activities. “The agency has two other small accounts that were created to support specific purposes both within and outside USCIS: the H-1B Non-Immigrant Petitioner Fee Account; and the H-1B Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee Account.”
When DHS receives its annual funding, USCIS also receives its direct appropriations. In previous years, Congress also funded special projects through direct appropriations such as backlog reduction. In recent years, according to CRS, appropriations have exclusively funded E-Verify and immigrant integration grants. E-Verify is a system that electronically confirms if individuals have proper authorization to work in the United States.
INS was legally allowed to charge fees for immigration services even before the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA). When the Immigration Examinations Fee Account (IEFA) was created, USCIS collected most of its budget from user fees, and its budget was no longer subject to annual congressional approval. Congress has little or no influence on our immigration policies and enforcement.
Our President issued on November 20, 2014 the Immigration Accountability Executive Action which included provisions such as an expansion of the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program started in 2012, and the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program that “grants certain unauthorized aliens protection from removal, and work authorization, for three years.”
Applicants submit petitions and pay user fees to USCIS which “would purportedly pay for the cost of administering the program.” This executive action benefited 5 million unauthorized aliens living in the United States. “The deferred action programs of the President’s executive action have been temporarily enjoined.”
Some Congressmen, reflecting the wishes of their constituents, oppose deferred action programs but have little or no options to stop the programs using the annual funding process. They cannot control an agency which is largely independent of Congress. To change this situation, an enactment of law would be required which Congress does not seem interested in pursuing, as the illegal immigration debacle continues unabated despite the recent violent attacks in Paris by “refugees” from Syria and elsewhere who were allowed into EU unrestricted.
While some are happy that USCIS reduces the burden of cost to American taxpayers, others are concerned over the lack of congressional oversight on its activities and its lack of accountability to Congress.
Additional potential issues include the level of fees that may prevent potential applicants from seeking benefits or deter lawful permanent residents from becoming citizens; the pace and progress of information technology modernization may not serve legal petitioners efficiently, causing huge backlogs of 4 million legal applications; and the inability of Congress to oversee the adequacy of personnel management and resources.
With the leading purpose of processing immigrant petitions, USCIS handled in 2014 six million petitions for immigration-related services and benefits. USCIS performs other functions:
- Adjudication of immigration and naturalization petitions
- Refugee and asylum claims and related humanitarian and international concerns
- Immigration-related services such as issuing employment authorizations
- Petitions of nonimmigrant change-of-status
“Humanitarian functions have no associated fee” but the following do levy user fees:
- Immigration adjudication
Of the 6 million petitions processed each year, 1 million are for permanent status and 5 million are for temporary non-immigrant status; adjudicators determine if immediate relatives and family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent resident (LPRs) are eligible; if employees U.S. businesses demonstrate they are needed and no other Americans are available; they also determine if foreign nationals on a temporary visa are eligible to change to another non-immigrant status or LPR status
- Work authorization
Screens aliens for work under certain conditions
- Employment verification
Checks lawful status to work in the United States (since FY2007, congressional appropriations have funded the E-Verify)
- International Services
USCIS Office of International Affairs “adjudicates refugee applications and conducts background and record checks related to some immigrant petitions abroad;” a component of this program is the asylum officer corps who interview and screen asylum applicants; according to USCIS, “a person seeking asylum is applying for protection from persecution for the same reasons as a refugee but, unlike a refugee, is present in the United States”
- Fraud Detection and National Security
This office flags applications and petitions that trigger national security and criminal database notifications; such duties, formerly performed by INS enforcement, are now under the responsibility of DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
- Civic Integration
Instructing and training on citizenship rights and responsibilities via a Citizenship Resource Center website and via the Immigrant Integration Grants Program “which assists public or private nonprofit organizations that provide citizenship instruction and naturalization application services to LPRs
Granting U.S. citizenship to LPRs; adjudicators must check if aliens have continuously resided in the U.S. for a specific period of time, have good moral character, are able to read, write, speak, and understand English, and have a basic knowledge of U.S. civic and history;
Do unsavory characters who are not worthy of American citizenship or of refugee status slip through the adjudication process? Of course they do, the terrorist Tsernaev brothers come to mind.
One of the biggest criticisms of USCIS is that petitions are still processed in the “outmoded” paper form and there are constant complaints of lost files. Since 2008 USCIS has embarked on IT Modernization and Client Services in order to “improve information sharing, workload capacity, and system integrity.” Eventually the system will be “paperless, centralized, and consolidated, ensuring national security and integrity, customer service, operational efficiency, and quality in immigration benefit decisions.” (Fiscal Year 2016 Congressional Budget Justifications, p. 3357)
Since Congress is so weak and unwilling to protect our borders, our American interests, and our sovereignty, would a President Trump be ready to use his executive pen to stop the flood of illegal immigrants by building a fence, enforcing current immigration laws, and deporting criminal illegal aliens?