Today, USCIS released a self-congratulatory statement emphasizing its FY 2019 statistics and accomplishments, particularly in the context of implementing and enforcing Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli praised the agency’s “significant steps to mitigate loopholes in our asylum system, combat fraudulent claims, and strengthen the protections we have in place.” Of course, those of us in the know can see right through this blatant falsehood. FY 2019 has seen processing times balloon astronomically, visa denials (many done in astonishingly bad faith and contrary to law) at an all time high, and the most fear and uncertainty for immigrant communities in recent memory. The damage done by Trump and his policies has been tremendous, and will take years to reverse. All we can do is grit our teeth and soldier on, overcoming each obstacle as it comes before us. And of course pray for a new president in 2020.
Copied from USCIS:
WASHINGTON—U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) today released preliminary fiscal year 2019 agency statistics, accomplishments and efforts to implement President Trump’s agenda. These preliminary statistics highlight important immigration trends and illustrate the work accomplished by USCIS in FY 2019. The agency will publish final, verified FY 2019 statistics later next month.
“FY 2019 has been a historic year for USCIS and we have achieved many of President Trump’s goals to make our immigration system work better for America. As an agency, we have worked hand-in-hand with our fellow DHS components to answer President Trump’s call to address the ongoing crisis at our southern border. In the face of congressional inaction, we’ve taken significant steps to mitigate the loopholes in our asylum system, combat fraudulent claims and strengthen the protections we have in place to preserve humanitarian assistance for those truly in need of it,” said USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli. “Meanwhile, the men and women of USCIS continue to administer our nation’s lawful immigration system, processing a large number of applications and requests while naturalizing 833,000 new U.S. citizens, an 11-year high.
“In the coming year, we will continue to use every tool available to us to deliver on President Trump’s promises to the American people. We will continue to fulfill his goals to strengthen our nation’s strained immigration system and alleviate the crisis at our border while the agency continues to fairly and efficiently adjudicate the applications of those seeking lawful status in the U.S.”
Crisis Response and Asylum Reform
Absent congressional action to provide targeted fixes to our immigration system, USCIS rushed personnel and resources to our southern border and implemented a number of significant policy changes and reforms designed to help reduce the loopholes in our nation’s asylum system that allowed for crisis levels of abuse and exploitation.
Major Policy Reforms
- Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP): MPP was established by the Trump Administration in January 2019 to restore a safe and orderly immigration process along the U.S. southern border and decrease the number of aliens attempting to game the immigration system. Under MPP, aliens attempting to enter the U.S. from Mexico without proper documentation may be returned to Mexico to wait outside of the U.S. during their immigration proceedings.
- Third Country Transit Asylum Rule: In July, DHS and DOJ published a joint interim final rule to enhance the integrity of the asylum process by placing further restrictions or limitations on eligibility for aliens who seek asylum in the United States. Specifically, with limited exceptions, the rule bars aliens, who entered along the southern border, from receiving asylum in the U.S. if they did not apply for asylum in at least one other country they transited through. This rule aims to mitigate the crisis at the border by better identifying and serving legitimate asylum seekers.
- In FY 2019, the Asylum Division received more than 105,000 credible fear cases – over 5,000 more than in FY 2018 and a new record high.
- The top five countries asylum officers processed credible fear claims from: Honduras, Cuba, Guatemala, El Salvador and India.
- In FY 2019, USCIS executed an ambitious plan to hire 500 staff for the Asylum Division by the end of December 2019 to reach authorized staffing levels. New strategies are in development to more specifically target individuals with relevant experience and skill sets, including those with prior military and law enforcement expertise.
- During any given week in FY 2019, 60-90 USCIS employees were assigned to detention facilities or Border Patrol stations along the southwest border, including about 40-60 asylum officers.
- The Asylum Division trained and deployed U.S. Border Patrol agents and USCIS officers from outside the Asylum Division to supplement staffing on the southern border and assist with the Asylum Division’s workload.
- USCIS processed tens of thousands of refugees overseas, work that contributed to meeting the 30,000 refugee admissions ceiling for FY 2019.
- USCIS conducted a successful pilot program to validate the identity of refugee applicants using UNHCR biometric records.
- In FY 2019, USCIS sent 400 employee volunteers to assist with the federal government’s overall efforts responding to critical DHS needs.
- 233 of these volunteers were deployed directly to the nation’s southern border through the DHS Volunteer Force in support of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Others were deployed to offices across the country providing critical legal services and mission support to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Protecting American Workers and Taxpayers
In August, USCIS announced the publication of the Final Rule on Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds, a rule that enforces long-standing law to better ensure that those seeking to come to, or stay in, the United States are self-sufficient. With this new rule, DHS defined public charge to mean an alien who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months, in the aggregate, within any 36-month period (such that, for instance, receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months). Under the new regulation, USCIS sought to evaluate applications to better ensure that aliens seeking to come to, or remain in, the United States are able to successfully support themselves through their own capabilities and through the resources of their families, sponsors, and private organizations rather than rely on public benefit programs supported by taxpayers.
On Oct. 11 and Oct. 14, 2019, judges in eight separate cases before U.S. District Courts for the Southern District of New York, Northern District of California, Eastern District of Washington, Northern District of Illinois, and District of Maryland enjoined DHS from implementing and enforcing this final rule and postponed the effective date until a final resolution of the litigation.
In July, USCIS published a final rule that made a number of significant changes to the agency’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. Under the EB-5 program, individuals are eligible to apply for conditional lawful permanent residence in the United States if they make the necessary investment in a new commercial enterprise in the United States and create 10 full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers. The reforms made to the program this year increase the minimum investment level to account for inflation over the past three decades and substantially restrict the possibility of gerrymandering targeted employment areas that qualify for a reduced investment amount, ensuring that the incentive is reserved for rural and high-unemployment areas most in need.
Securing the Homeland
Vetting and Screening
Consistent with President Trump’s call for enhanced vetting, USCIS plays a key role in safeguarding our nation’s immigration system and making sure that only those who are eligible for a benefit receive it. USCIS is vigorous in its efforts to detect and deter immigration fraud, using a variety of vetting and screening processes to confirm an applicant’s identity and eligibility. The agency also conducts site visits, interviews applicants, and requests evidence for benefits that offer individuals status in the United States.
- In FY 2019, USCIS expanded certain screening procedures to address President Trump’s Executive Order 13780, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” This includes additional vetting for naturalization and permanent residence applicants.
- USCIS personnel completed more than 8,000 site visits as part of the Targeted Site Visit and Verification Program.
- Referrals to the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate from field offices surpassed FY 2018 levels by more than 22%.
- The primary background screening system for USCIS (known as ATLAS) processed more than 16.5 million screenings, through law enforcement and other federal databases, generating approximately 124,000 automated potential fraud, public safety and national security detections requiring further analysis and manual review by USCIS officers.
- FDNS continued leveraging open source and publicly available social media information to investigate potential fraud, national security and public safety concerns with approximately 11,420 checks completed in FY 2019.
From the beginning of FY 2019 through August 2019, USCIS adjudicated nearly 7.5 million requests for immigration benefits, which is a 14% increase over the last fiscal year. However, data for September 2019 is not yet available. The verified final totals will be released later next month.
USCIS also naturalized 833,000 new citizens in FY 2019 – an 11-year high in new oaths of citizenship.
USCIS granted lawful permanent residence to 582,000 individuals and processed more than 2.1 million employment authorization applications. The agency also verified more than 40 million new hires through E-Verify.
From the start of FY 2019 through August 2019, the backlogs for Green Cards and naturalizations were reduced by 25% and 20% respectively.
The agency’s transition from paper applications to a fully digital experience continues to be an important priority for USCIS. Consequently, USCIS continues to expand our online filing capabilities.
- In FY 2019, 1,214,300 applications were filed online, a 10.4% increase from the 1,100,242 filed in FY 2018.
- USCIS added three forms (N-600, N-600K, and I-539) during FY 2019 for a total of eight forms (I-90, I-131A, N-336, N-400, N-565, N-600, N-600K and I-551) available now for online filing.
- USCIS plans to add several more forms for electronic filing during FY 2020, including the I-485, I-765, I-131, I-129 and I-589.
- Additionally, USCIS stood up FIRST, the federal government’s first fully electronic FOIA/Privacy Act request and delivery system that allows users to submit and track FOIA requests and receive documents digitally. In FY 2019, more than 26,000 electronic responses have been delivered to indivduals with online accounts.
Information Services Modernization Program
In FY 2019, USCIS expanded the Information Services Modernization Program (InfoMod). InfoMod saves both applicants and the agency time by enabling hundreds of thousands applicants who would have otherwise required an in-person appointment at a USCIS office to have their inquiries answered through the agency’s suite of self-help tools online and over the phone. Under InfoMod, applicants still in need of in-person appointment services for certain issues, such as emergency travel documentation, are now able to schedule appointments without being turned away due to lack of availability.
USCIS has continued to expand and enhance the self-help tools available to applicants online and through the agency’s Contact Center with the goal of providing more efficient, timely service. Due to these improvements, USCIS has seen an 13% increase in the number of individuals using USCIS’ digital tools since FY 2018. The number of myUSCIS sessions reached 35,138,900 in FY 2019 compared, with 31,079,323 in FY 2018.
**Copyright 2019 by Watson Immigration Law. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.