A little optimism in the face of the current onslaught of bad news.

Sunday, July 9th, 2017
By: Jonathan MontagJ.D.

I may be a little hasty and may regret it, but there are events that lead me to some cautious optimism. They come from the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Ombudsman and from the Department of Education.

Bad news is abundant these days in the immigration arena – bad being making life tougher for non-citizens and undocumented U.S. citizens. For non-citizens, executive orders barring entry to the country and declaring open season on undocumented aliens, including detaining asylum seekers, eliminating prosecutorial discretion, and reducing parole authority are bring dark days to the undocumented regardless of their ties to the country and contributions to it. With USCIS plagued by increasing backlogs, technical problems, and erratic and erroneous adjudications, even the least enforcement-oriented immigration agency is responsible for bad news.

As for undocumented citizens, ridiculous wait times for people seeking Certificates of Citizenship to document being citizens – I have a U.S. citizen client waiting 8 years for an adjudication – and a ridiculous filing fee of $1,170 to receive proof of citizenship is bad news. Similarly, voter disenfranchisement laws  affect U.S. citizens who cannot afford to provide documentation to vote, also an example of bad news for U.S. citizens.

People feared, reasonably, that appointees by our new President, Donald Trump, to executive positions would cause all kinds of havoc to the administration of the federal bureaucracy. And indeed it has as news reports about agencies like the Department of State  and the Environmental protection Agency show. News from the Department of The Education is also grim.

So, where is the good news? The New York Times  published an article discussing the Department of Education’s reviewing states’ implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor to No Child Left Behind. The article stated:

President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 as the less intrusive successor to the No Child Left Behind law, which was maligned by many in both political parties as punitive and prescriptive. But in the Education Department’s feedback to states about their plans to put the new law into effect, it applied strict interpretations of statutes, required extensive detail and even deemed some state education goals lackluster.

The article went on to detail how the Department of Education was giving states hell for being too lax in implementing the law. It also discussed how Conservatives and states believed the new Education Department under Secretary Betsy DeVos would leave states alone, but instead the department is demanding compliance with the law – the federal government telling the states what to do, violating a fundamental Conservative shibboleth.

Another piece of good news, the Department of Homeland Security’s USCIS Ombudsman published its annual report last week. The report chronicled the bad and the ugly of USCIS. It stressed the ombudsman’s role in monitoring USCIS and in providing customer service by communicating with USCIS about delayed and wrongly decided cases.

The Ombudsman is Ms. Julie Kirshner. She became the ombudsman on May 2, 2017. Before that, as reported in her biography on the DHS website,  “Between 2005 and 2015, Ms. Kirchner worked at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and for eight years served as the organization’s Executive Director.” FAIR was designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. FAIR is not the alien’s friend, to put it mildly.

One might have expected Ms. Kirshner’s ombudsman’s office to hold off on issuing its annual report, express skepticism for consumer complaints and seek to downgrade its case assistance program. The annual report disclosed, unapprovingly, backlogs in asylum adjudications and pronounced with pride resolving adjudication problems and even getting customers refunds. In my 20+ years of working with USCIS and is predecessor organization, I have never had an officer hand me a refund for fees in a botched case or unnecessary appeal, or even say, “We’re sorry.”

Ms. Kirshner could still dismantle the office and allow USCIS to run amok. Ms. DeVos could allow states to flaunt the requirements of federal education law. For now, they haven’t, and therein lies some hope for the future – some limited cautious optimism. Posted July 9, 2017.


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