United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) unveiled a new mission statement this week, signaling a significant shift in how the agency wants to tell its story and shape its priorities going forward.
On February 8, USCIS Director Ur Jaddou announced the agency’s new mission.
“USCIS delivers on America’s promise as a nation of welcome and opportunity with fairness, integrity, and respect for all those we serve.”
Director Jaddou said the new mission statement reflects staff feedback, the Biden administration’s priorities and its vision for an inclusive and accessible agency. But it’s more than that. The new mission statement signals a shift in the narrative as it begins to tell a new story about the role USCIS wants to play in American life.
It’s understandable that an overhaul of the mission statement may not be satisfactory for those who have suffered from unimaginable delays and questionable customer service for years. But if you think about the dominant narratives that have shaped the work of the immigration agency over the past twenty years, this is extremely important. When you look back, it becomes clear how the agency got here.
When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was founded after 9/11, the US government placed 22 of its agencies under the DHS umbrella. These agencies, including what is now USCIS, became responsible for protecting Americans and securing the homeland. With the birth of DHS came a new mandate and a new narrative for the agencies under its direction.
Overall, this narrative of “safety and security” has resulted in the US government treating almost all foreign-born people entering the United States as a potential threat.
The former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), part of which became USCIS – an immigration benefits processing agency – was incorporated into the DHS law enforcement regime. Not surprisingly, since then, the DHS “safety and security” narrative has begun to seep into USCIS mission statements and policies. The agency has focused more on law enforcement and “extreme verification” than benefits processing, ensuring a good customer service experience and working to make the United States a more welcoming place to American wannabes.
This resulted in aggressive bureaucratic barriers that even impeded regular migration flows.
Clearly, narrative shifts and mission statements have consequences and can spur action.
For one of DHS’ leading immigration agencies to announce that it offers a welcoming narrative to ensure that those applying for immigration benefits are treated with fairness, integrity, and respect is a massive change.
True, this will not lead to a rapid elimination of long waiting times and arrears. But starting to recast the agency’s vision and expectations for how it treats its clients is a hugely important starting point. If the agency can continue to focus on this mission, we could see major changes in their policies and practices coming.
It has always been true that words matter and ideas and actions flow from them. This has proven true many times.
We also now have a USCIS Mission Statement that can be used to measure its progress.
This is a victory and a crucial step forward.
FILED UNDER: USCIS