Immigration Officers' Union Blasts Immigration Bill

Image: Immigration Officers' Union Blasts Immigration Bill Supporters for immigration reform listen to the debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 14.

Sunday, 19 May 2013 10:58 PM

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The Senate's immigration bill will raise national security risks and the Obama administration will do little more than "rubber-stamp" illegal immigrants into the program, endangering Americans, says the labor union representing the 12,000 employees who will have to approve the applications.

Kenneth Palinkas, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 119, which represents officers and staff at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, will deliver a damning critique of the Senate bill Monday, according to a copy of his statement obtained by The Washington Times.

His statement goes well beyond the current debate, portraying an agency intent on approving as many illegal immigrants as possible.

"The culture at USCIS encourages all applications to be approved, discouraging proper investigation into red flags and discouraging the denial of any applications," his remarks say. "USCIS has been turned into an 'approval machine.'"

The union becomes the second key Homeland Security Department labor group to oppose the bill. Its opposition dents the bill and deals a blow to the AFL-CIO — the coalition of labor unions that has put major legislative muscle behind the bill this year but is seeing its members peel off.

Mr. Palinkas says the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators who wrote the Senate bill never talked to the USCIS and that the legislation is riddled with special-interest loopholes and shirks security checks.

"The legislation was written with special interests — producing a bill that makes the current system worse, not better," Mr. Palinkas' remarks say. The bill "will damage public safety and national security and should be opposed by lawmakers."

That was the same complaint made by Chris Crane, chief of the union representing agents and officers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Mr. Crane has said the Senate bill would hurt ICE agents' ability to enforce the law.

But the USCIS officers' opposition could be even more potent. They describe themselves as the "backbone" of any legalization effort — the officers who will have to review each application and decide whether it meets the standards and whether the person is a security risk.

Their warnings could carry weight with lawmakers worried about a repeat of the amnesty in 1986, when hundreds of thousands of immigrants defrauded the system. All sides say they want to avoid the same scenario.

Chief among the USCIS union's worries is the way the administration has handled President Obama's non-deportation policy for "Dreamers" — illegal immigrants who arrived as children and who the Obama administration has said should not be deported.

Last year, Mr. Obama announced a policy titled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that grants a two-year stay of deportation and work permits.

The latest statistics show that the administration is approving almost every application it receives: 99.2 percent of all applications decided through the end of April, according to numbers released Friday.

About 500,000 applications have been submitted in the 8 months the deferred action has been available. Of those, 291,859 have been approved while 2,352 have been denied. The rest are still in processing.

The action is seen as a test-run should Congress pass the Senate's legalization bill, which would apply to a broad swath of 11 million illegal immigrants estimated to be in the U.S.

Mr. Palinkas said the reason so many deferred action applicants are being approved is because the Obama administration has determined that they don't need in-person interviews, which "virtually guarantees widespread fraud and places public safety at risk."

The Senate Judiciary Committee is working its way through hundreds of amendments to the bill written by the Gang of Eight.

The crux of the bill gives quick legal status to illegal immigrants but withholds the full path to citizenship until the Homeland Security Department spends more on border security, puts an electronic verification system for workers into place and creates a working entry-exit system to check visitors as they come and go at airports and seaports.

Obama administration officials cheered the progress from the sidelines Sunday.

"Comprehensive immigration reform is continuing to move forward in the Senate. That's a really good sign," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told CNN's "State of the Union" program Sunday.

The ICE and USCIS union objections could become a problem for the AFL-CIO, which enthusiastically embraced the bill this year.

Mr. Crane has accused the AFL-CIO of "threatening" those who disagreed with its stance.

The AFL-CIO has put major muscle behind this year's push for the Senate bill, having negotiated terms of the legislation's guest-worker program with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

On a conference call with reporters this month, Ana Avendano, who works on immigration issues for the AFL-CIO, said the union saw such positive signs for passage that Mr. Obama should stop most deportations now because the bill likely would give the immigrants legal status.

She also disputed a reporter's characterization of opponents' efforts to poke holes in the bill, saying the coalition behind the legislation remains strong.

"It's dangerous to treat the bill as fragile because it's not fragile. By treating it as fragile, it really gives the nativists power," she said.

The statement follows below:

Kenneth Palinkas, President of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, the union representing 12,000 United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adjudications officers and staff, issued a statement today after adding his name to the letter organized by the National ICE Council detailing concerns over the Gang of Eight immigration Legislation, or S. 744.

Mr. Palinkas' statement follows:

"I am pleased to add my name to the nationwide law enforcement letter organized by the National ICE Council. We at USCIS are honored to stand with immigration officers and law enforcement officials across the nation. Dedicated USC IS adjudications officers and staff perform the indispensable work of reviewing millions of applications every single year for those seeking to receive visas, become citizens and permanent residents, or to otherwise adjust their immigration status. The mission of our federal employees is critical to identifying threats and providing for public safety and national security. We are the very backbone of our nation's immigration system and will be at the center of implementing any immigration reform.

"Yet, like the ICE Council, the USC IS Council was not consulted in the crafting of the Gang of Eight's legislation. Instead, the legislation was written with special interests-producing a bill that makes the current system worse, not better. S. 744 will damage public safety and national security and should be opposed by lawmakers.

"This legislation fails to address some of the most serious concerns the US CIS Council has about the current system which Congress must address, including:
  • USCIS adjudications officers are pressured to rubber stamp applications instead of conducting diligent case review and investigation. The culture at USCIS encourages all applications to be approved, discouraging proper investigation into red flags and discouraging the denial of any applications. USCIS has been turned into an "approval machine."
  • USCIS has created an almost insurmountable bureaucracy which often prevents USCIS adjudications officers from contacting and coordinating with ICE agents and officers in cases that should have their involvement. USCIS officers are pressured to approve visa applications for many individuals ICE agents have determined should be placed into deportation proceedings.
  • USCIS officers who identify illegal aliens that, in accordance with law should be placed into immigration removal proceedings before a federal judge, are prevented from exercising their authority and responsibility to issue Notices To Appear (NT As). In the rare case that an officer attempts to issue an NTA, it must first be approved by a secretive panel created under DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, which often denies the officer's request. Illegal aliens are then permitted to remain in the United States as US CIS officers are not able to take action or contact ICE agents for assistance.
  • The attitude of US CIS management is not that the Agency serves the American public or the laws of the United States, or public safety and national security, but instead that the agency serves illegal aliens and the attorneys which represent them. While we believe in treating all people with respect, we are concerned that this agency tasked with such a vital security mission is too greatly influenced by special interest groups-to the point that it no longer properly performs its mission.
  • Currently, USCIS reports a 99.5 percent approval rating for all illegal alien applications for legal status filed under the Obama Administration's new deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) policies.
  • DHS and USCIS leadership have intentionally established an application process for DACA applicants that bypasses traditional in-person investigatory interviews with trained USCIS adjudications officers. These practices were put in place to stop proper screening and enforcement, and guarantee that applications will be rubber-stamped for approval, a practice that virtually guarantees widespread fraud and places public safety at risk.
  • While illegal aliens applying for legal status under DACA polices are required to pay fees, DHS and USCIS are now exercising their discretion to waive those fees. Undoubtedly these practices will be replicated for millions of illegal aliens if S. 7 44 becomes law.
  • U.S taxpayers are currently tasked with absorbing the cost of over $200 million worth of fee waivers bestowed on applicants for naturalization during the last fiscal year. This is in addition to thestrain put on our Social Security system that has been depleted by an onslaught of refugees receiving SSI benefits as soon as their feet touch U.S. soil.
  • Large swaths of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) are not effectively enforced for legal immigrants and visa holders, including laws regarding public charges as well as many other provisions, as USCIS lacks the resources to adequately screen and scrutinize legal immigrants and non-immigrants seeking status adjustment. There is also insufficient screening and monitoring of student visas.
  • A new USCIS computer system to screen applications known as "Transformation" has proven to be a disaster as the agency has spent upwards of $2 billion for a system that would eventually allow an alien-now referred to as a "customer" under current USCIS policy-to upload their own information via the internet for adjudication purposes.
To date, only one form can be accepted into the program that has been in the making for close to 10 years.

In closing, the legislation will provide legal status to millions of visa overstays while failing to provide for necessary in-person interviews.

Legal status is also explicitly granted to millions who have committed serious immigration and criminal offenses, while dramatically boosting future immigration without correcting the flaws in our current legal immigration process. We need immigration reform that works. This legislation, sadly, will not.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC

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