Immigration Law Blog

Monday, March 5, 2018

Are We Still a Nation of Immigrants? Not So Much, Says USCIS

By Kalpana Peddibhotla/MPLG Founder

For more than 130 years, the iconic Statue of Liberty – bearing the inscription “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – has epitomized America’s core value of serving as a nation which welcomes and embraces immigrants. That vision has been blurred many times throughout history, but is facing one of its greatest challenges today, as the current administration attempts its full-scale decimation of the basic civil rights of immigrants.

The attack on immigrants was unabashedly spelled out Feb. 22, when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services changed its mission statement, eliminating the phrase “nation of immigrants.” The agency changed its language from:

“USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.”

To this:

“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.”[1]

Ironically, USCIS director Lee Francis Cissna is himself the son of immigrants, who said at his Senate confirmation hearing last May: “The immigrant experience has always been a fundamental part of my family life, and I would be proud to carry that heritage with me,” as reported by The Washington Post.

That USCIS strikes immigrants out on paper makes our country no less a proud nation of immigrants. Immigrants have built the foundations of this great nation; Chinese and Punjabi laborers worked side by side to build America’s railroads. The Gettys migrated to the U.S. from Northern Ireland in the late 1800s, and – after amassing a fortune in the oil industry – set their sights on philanthropy, endowing institutions of art and culture throughout the new nation.

Perhaps the most classic immigrant tale is that of the Kennedy family. Patrick Kennedy left Ireland in 1848 to escape grinding poverty: every generation of Kennedys have since made their mark in U.S. politics.

Today’s immigrants – many of whom arrived with $8 in their pockets – have built the Silicon Valley and tech and biotech hubs throughout the country, creating millions of jobs and innovation. Immigrants contributed an estimated $2 trillion to the U.S.’s $18 trillion overall economy in 2017, according to the World Bank. Interestingly, undocumented immigrants challenged the myth of draining the U.S. economy by contributing an estimated $12 billion via sales and excise, personal income, and property taxes.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association has expressed its deep disappointment at the Trump administration's rewrite of the USCIS mission statement.

In a Feb. 23 press release, Annaluisa Padilla, AILA President, stated: “This latest insidious attempt by the Trump administration to diminish the valuable contributions that immigrants have made to our nation and our local communities will not turn Americans away from our most fundamental values.”

Benjamin Johnson, AILA Executive Director added: “USCIS was created with a distinct purpose - the adjudication of naturalization applications, immigrant and nonimmigrant visa petitions, and asylum and refugee applications - enshrining in law our rich tradition as a nation of immigrants.”

“America is a place that honors the contributions of immigrants and secures their place in our society. The Trump administration is bent on turning USCIS away from its core mission, and the core values that guide that mission,” said Johnson.

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