Another frustrating day at the USCIS races

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009
By: Jonathan MontagJ.D.

It may seem like I have been concentrating a lot on USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) these days. With all the bad things that happen to people – like prolonged detentions, abuse at the border, laws that separate families forever – the problems with USCIS may pale in comparison. However, immigration customers most often deal with USCIS which is probably the largest component of the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) immigration triumvirate (C.P., ICE, USCIS) which grants all immigration benefits and collects nearly all the money so difficulties there impact more people than difficulties in the other immigration organizations.

Yesterday was a day I had plenty of interaction with USCIS. A morning interview scheduled for 11:15 a.m. took place at 12:30 p.m. The officer was sincerely apologetic about the delay and I have absolutely no doubt that the officer’s explanation for the delay was true – some difficult cases were on the officer’s docket that morning that consumed a lot of time. However, like an airline that is sincerely apologetic but late all the time, the apologies, though sincere by the individuals involved, do not excuse the system as a whole. Every day there will be difficult cases. The “system” should acknowledge the this fact. Provisions should be put in place such as:

1. Provide for the likelihood of difficult cases when scheduling. Perhaps build gaps in the schedule so a difficult case will not cause a cascading delay throughout the day.

2. Tell those waiting there is a delay. Instead of sitting like loxes for an hour and fifteen minutes, the customer could be told to come back in an hour.

3. Create a system where an adjudicator who falls behind can hand a case or two to someone else (like a supervisor?) who was not plagued by difficult cases.

Love may mean never having to say you’re sorry. So would improvements to a poorly functioning system.

Another interview in the afternoon had different shenanigans. The case involved an applicant who had HIV. The officer presented us with a list of requirements to get a waiver for HIV, which the officer told us was required because having the disease is a ground of inadmissibility.

A quick aside – if I was a bridge builder and in the news the big story was of a bridge collapse, I would be very interested in it. I would probably watch the news with interest, buy a newspaper, go on line to read more. I would be naturally curious about it. The news would clearly pique my interest.

Well, a little more than two weeks ago, the lead story on the news was that HIV would no longer be a ground of inadmissibility. The President made a speech where he announced it. The new rule was published in the federal register. All the TV news shows broadcast it at the beginning of their broadcasts. It was on the first page of newspapers and all over the Internet. You would think immigration officers whose job is to determine inadmissibility issues would have heard of this and integrated it into their work. When I pointed out that the law had changed, the officer (a very kind and efficient person) spoke to a supervisor. The officer returned with a memo from mid-September 2009 discussing how to deal with HIV. I pointed out that the memo was dated a month and a half before the President’s announcement. I got an assurance that if I submitted evidence that the law had changed, the officer would run it up the flagpole. I went back to my office and printed out the federal register entry with the new rule and the transcript of the President’s speech and sent it over to the local office. Hopefully, these pieces of evidence will eliminate the need to provide the documents USCIS is now asking for.

And then I looked at the mail. I got a request for evidence from the local office in a case – a fee receipt. First, USCIS takes the money for the forms we file. If the form is in the file and it has a case number, it would not be there unless it was paid for. Secondly, I submitted the fee receipt when I filed the case. Third, we had an interview and discussed the existence of the fee receipt in the officer’s file. The fix here is an easy one – give them what they want; just mail a copy of the receipt – and hope the mail room does not reject it and hope it gets to the file and hope the officer sees the file before the case is denied or sent to storage. I am pretty confident this will happen. Perhaps if the President would make a speech about my receipt being mailed, it would not be overlooked. Then again, maybe not.  November 18, 2009.



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