I came to the United States in 1960, having fled Cuba with my parents and my sister. I was later granted citizenship through the beneficence of the United States government. I understand deeply the gravity as well as the nobility of our mission at USCIS: to administer our country’s immigration laws efficiently and with fairness, honesty, and integrity.
I believe there are four principles that should help us define how we work. First, we must be a customer-focused agency, always mindful of the needs and views of those who seek our services. To this end, we must actively solicit input and feedback from stakeholders and the public so that a variety of views inform our decisions. Second, we must be good and careful stewards of taxpayer resources, cutting costs and improving efficiency wherever possible. Third, we must be transparent in our efforts; the public deserves and is entitled to know how we operate and what our successes and our challenges are. And finally, we must strive for consistency in our operations so that the services we provide meet the same high standards regardless of where they are sought.
Today our agency took a major step forward to put these ideas into action. After much hard work, including substantial feedback from the public, we launched a new and vastly improved USCIS.gov website. This new one-stop-shop will provide a range of tools and features for those looking for information, including case status updates. For example:
- The site features a My Case Status tool that allows users to type in a receipt number and find out what processing step their case is in, how that fits into the overall process, and what the local case processing times are.
- A National Dashboard that allows the public to compare national processing volumes and trends and download raw data.
- A better search engine so it is easier to find what a user is looking for.
- New options to receive status updates via email or text alerts.
This new website reflects our commitment at USCIS to continually improve how we do business. It is one of many changes in the works that will help us be a more effective, transparent, and responsive agency. Stay tuned for more to come. In the meantime, I hope you find the new site useful.
Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Ninety days ago, President Obama called for new USCIS technology to improve transparency and efficiency in the immigration system. USCIS met the President’s directive by developing a re-designed and enhanced website, available in English and Spanish, to help customers navigate the immigration system more effectively. Essentially, the new USCIS website will be a “one-stop shop” for immigration information.
For example, the new USCIS.gov website includes a “Where to Start” tool that helps customers easily navigate the new site, a “My Case Status” tool that allows customers to check the status of their application via email and text message alerts, and a “National Dashboard” that provides national data on volumes and trends in the immigration system. We are also proud to introduce a Spanish language version of our website, which is available at: www.uscis.gov/espanol.
Take a minute to check out the new site today and spread the word!
Ninety days ago, President Obama called for new USCIS technology to improve transparency and efficiency in the immigration system. USCIS met the President's directive by developing a re-designed and enhanced website, available in English and Spanish, to help customers navigate the immigration system more effectively. Essentially, the new USCIS website will be a "one-stop shop" for immigration information.
The new "My Case Status" function above allows customers to sign in with a receipt number, and check the status of their application. They will also be able to sign up for email and text alerts for the first time, to let them know what step of the process their application is in.
For example, the new USCIS.gov website includes a "Where to Start" tool that helps customers easily navigate the new site, a "My Case Status" tool that allows customers to check the status of their application via email and text message alerts, and a "National Dashboard" that provides national data on volumes and trends in the immigration system. We are also proud to introduce a Spanish language version of our website, which is available at: www.uscis.gov/espanol.
Take a minute to check out the new site today and spread the word!
President Barack Obama says the first family will follow the rules like every one else on the swine flu vaccine.
Obama says he's probably "fairly far down" the pecking order for being vaccinated.
He tells CNN's "State of the Union" that even though he's president, "We will stand in line like everybody else. And when folks say it's our turn, that's when we'll get it."
Federal guidelines call for the new vaccine to be given first to pregnant women; people who live with or care for kids 6 months or younger; health care workers; people age 6 months through 24; and people with chronic health problems or compromised immune systems.
Only after shots are offered to those groups will the vaccine be available to healthy adults 64 and younger -- that's where the president and first lady come in. Eleven-year-old Malia and 8-year-old Sasha are in one those earlier groups.
Obama says he'll call up his health secretary and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and "whatever they tell me to do, I will do."
From the Sierra Vista Herald, on the Coast Guard's role in combating the flow of illegal drugs into the United States:
When it comes to the country's border security issues, Arizona faces tough challenges. Arizona's porous border with Mexico has created a security crisis for our state, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said.
On Friday, Giffords hosted a multi-agency briefing that featured Adm. Thad Allen, the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and head of the Drug Interdiction Committee, before they visited Bowie schoolkids on a more social note.
The briefing was held at the University of Arizona National Center for Border Security and Immigration in Tucson and included representatives from all levels of law enforcement.
Organized as a follow-up to a border violence summit Giffords convened in April, the meeting was intended to promote collaboration and communication across federal, state and county agencies.
Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard, visits with Bowie Superintendent Patrick O'Donnell on Friday. With deep family ties to Cochise County, Allen stopped by the school after a border security briefing in Tucson hosted by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. (Carol Broeder, Arizona Range News)
"At that summit, more than 60 participants came together to discuss how we could improve coordination and the effectiveness of our work to combat the drug cartels," Giffords said during an opening address, according to her press secretary. "We all know that we have challenges here in Southern Arizona unlike any other part of the country."
From the San Antonio Business Journal, on ARRA funding for a new baggage handling system at San Antonio's airport:
The City of San Antonio Aviation Department has received a federal stimulus grant totaling just under $14.4 million from the Transportation Security Administration.
The grant is part of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 and is for eligible costs associated with the design, engineering and construction of the Terminal 1/B Consolidated Baggage Handling System (BHS) project at San Antonio International Airport.
The BHS is currently part of the City's airport expansion program, which includes a new passenger terminal building, a new parking facility and a new bi-level roadway system.
City officials say the BHS project will free up lobby space and improve passenger circulation in Terminal 1 and accommodate the baggage screening process at multiple terminals.
ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton and the Colombian Ambassador to the United States will participate in a press event with the Colombian National Police (CNP), announcing the CNP participation in ICE led BEST in four US ports.
Policia Nacional de Colombia
Carreera 59 N 26-21, CAN, Bogota DC
Diane Gray was beaming and full of pride Thursday morning as she waived a miniature American flag.
"I got it!," she said to a crowded room in a University of Nevada, Reno auditorium. "I got it!"
Gray, along with 32 others from 13 nations, was presented a certificate of naturalization, marking years of work to gain U.S. citizenship.
"I'm going to be here the rest of my life and I want to vote," the 53-year-old Canadian-born grandmother said. "I like the United States and I want to be a part of the processes and vote. I want to make a difference.
"I'm just like y'all now," she said and raised her arms in triumph. "This is really something that no words can describe. It's awesome."
Now, Gray said she is going to register to vote and apply for her passport.
The day was special for another reason. It was Citizenship Day, marked for the remembrance of the signing of the Constitution in 1787. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Reno Field Office Director Monica Toro said naturalization ceremonies on Citizenship Day has become a new tradition across the nation, 2009 being the second year.
From the Associated Press, on yesterday's citizenship grants announcement:
Federal Immigration officials on Thursday awarded a Dallas group and 12 other organizations around the country $1.2 million in grants to help legal residents become U.S. citizens.
Citizenship and Immigration Services awarded $100,000 to Catholic Charities Immigration and Legal Services. It wasn't immediately clear how much money was awarded to the other groups, but the agency said they could apply for up to $100,000.
The announcement coincided with Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.
The agency said the money goes to increase the number of people served by programs that help green card holders improve their English skills, learn about U.S. history and government, and prepare for the naturalization process.
The funds can only be used to provide direct services to immigrants with legal status in the country.
From the Associated Press, on a new CBP commander in Grand Forks:
The Border Patrol sector in Grand Forks has a new commander.Rosa Nelly
Hernandez will supervise 180 people who help protect the U.S.-Canadian border.
Border Patrol officials say Hernandez is the first woman to command the Grand Forks sector and third woman chief in the history of the Border Patrol.
Hernandez, who's a San Antonio native, was installed at a Wednesday airport ceremony that included members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a bagpipe and drum corps.
She asked for help from border agents and the community, saying, "Whether you are a farmer or in law enforcement, help us secure our homeland."
Hernandez said the Border Patrol will become more intelligence-based. She said officials plant to put three agents in each of five communities in North Dakota, six communities in Minnesota and one in Ashland, Wis.
No public events today
USCIS is conducting naturalization ceremonies around the world today, administering the Oath of Allegiance to over 8,400 individuals during 72 ceremonies.
The Secretary participated in a similar naturalization ceremony at the Pentagon last week and administered the Oath of Allegiance to 31 members of the U.S. armed forces. We’re happy to bring you some video from that event. Check it out in the player below or on our Youtube channel.
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USCIS also announced a total of $1.2 million in new Citizenship Grants, designed to help organizations prepare Legal Permanent Residents for citizenship. The grants were awarded to 13 organizations:
- Association House of Chicago;
- Catholic Charities of Dallas Inc.;
- Central American Resource Center, Los Angeles;
- Federation Employment and Guidance Service Inc., New York, N.Y.;
- International Institute of St. Louis;
- International Rescue Committee Inc., San Diego;
- Jewish Family and Children’s Services, San Francisco;
- Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest Inc., East Orange, N.J.;
- Lutheran Family Services in the Carolinas, Raleigh, N.C.;
- OneAmerica, Seattle;
- Progreso Latino, Central Falls, R.I.;
- Saint Mark Roman Catholic Parish, Dorchester, Mass.;
- and Young Women’s Christian Association of Tulsa, Okla.
“We are proud to support our new grantees,” said Mayorkas. “In the spirit of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, I am pleased to announce that we will be working with these organizations to help immigrants pursue citizenship and become fully vested members of their communities.”
Check out the full release from USCIS.
It also seems an appropriate day to brush up on our nation’s guiding document, don’t you think? Benjamin Franklin delivered a speech at the convention following the signing, arguing the case for unanimity among the states on the issue of ratification:
“I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good.”
For the record, the nine states required for ratification did so by June 21st of the following year.
The U.S. and Mexico are making headway in the ongoing struggle to curb the flow of illegal drugs, cash and weapons across the border, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday.
Napolitano, who spoke at a public policy conference at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, said "historic" agreements with Mexican President Felipe Calderon's government and increases in enforcement are helping with security issues in the U.S., and curbing the flow of drugs into the U.S. and weapons and cash into Mexico.
"We stand at a historic moment," she said. "We have the opportunity to work with the government of Mexico to make significant advancements in the safety and security of the border area and the safety and security of Mexico in the very courageous battle President Calderon is fighting there."
Calderon launched a nationwide offensive against violent and powerful drug cartels shortly after taking office in 2006. Since then, more than 13,000 people have been killed. In Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, federal police and Mexican troops have been deployed to curb the near-daily killings.
Napolitano said successes are coming slowly but steadily, and can't fully be measured by the number of arrests made or the amount of cash and weapons seized. "It will be a marathon, but progress is being made, again because of the historic relationship we have," she said.
From the Kentucky Post, on a US-VISIT success:
Customs and Border Protection's use of advanced technology, US-VISIT recently resulted in the detection, apprehension and incarceration of an arriving international passenger at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).
US-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indication Technology) records biographic and biometric information to conduct security checks and verify the identities of international travelers applying for admission into the United States. By linking a person's biometric information to his or her travel documents reduces the risk that a traveler's identity or documents could be intentionally misused by someone attempting to gain entry into the United States.
A case in point occurred on March 6, when Moussa Doucoure, 29, and a citizen of the country of Mali, arrived via an international flight from Paris, France at CVG. He presented himself for admission to CBP as a returning Asylee using a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Travel Document.
Upon his primary inspection by a CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officer and enrollment into US-VISIT, his fingerprints came up as a mismatch which resulted in a secondary inspection. It was during this secondary inspection that Doucoure was found to be an imposter to the travel document he presented. His fingerprint and photograph did not match the fingerprint and photograph that was on file for the genuine recipient of the travel document.
"US-VISIT biometric screening continues to prevent fraudulent document use and has enabled DHS to stop wanted criminals and immigration violators from entering this country. It is because of this state of the art technology and the fine work of our CBP officers and the U.S. Attorney's Office that this person was brought to justice."
From the Washington Post, on a D.C. school's preparation for H1N1:
Should the swine flu appear at Spark M. Matsunaga Elementary School in Germantown, a veritable arsenal of weaponry awaits.
There's a double-barreled blast of Germ-X hand sanitizer at the front desk in the main office. The antibacterial soap dispensers in the bathrooms. And in the Room 103, better known as Kristy Halvorsen's first-grade class, the virus faces a triple threat from more Germ-X, Purell soap and Kleenex tissues.
In their quest to fortify themselves against the H1N1 virus, known as swine flu, Matsunaga and other schools across the Washington region are building up chemical stockpiles and barraging students with lessons on how to wash their hands and cough into their elbows. There haven't been any cases of H1N1 at Matsunaga, the largest elementary school in Montgomery County, and Judy K. Brubaker, its principal, would like to keep it that way.
"When I buy it, I buy it at 400 bucks a pop," Brubaker said recently while giving a tour of her school's defenses. At least twice now, she has purchased 70 40-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer.
Each classroom has multiple defenses. In Philip D'Agnese's second-grade class in a temporary trailer, there were no fewer than six bottles of soap, one at each of the classroom's hotspots -- the computers, the pencil sharpener, the homework baskets -- and that wasn't counting the box of "antiviral" tissues.
10 AM EDT
CBP Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar and CBP Secure Border Initiative Executive Director Mark Borkowski will testify before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism about progress on the Secure Border Initiative
311 Cannon House Office Building
11:30 AM EDT
ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton will participate in a media availability announcing the indictment of a well known New Haven-area philanthropist for child sex tourism.
Financial Center, 11th Floor conference room
157 Church Street
New Haven, Conn.
1:30 PM EDT
USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas will administer the Oath of Allegiance and deliver remarks during a special “Citizenship Day” naturalization ceremony
Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (Flag Hall)
14th St. and Constitution Ave., NW
2:30 PM PDT
USCG Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara will participate in a public meeting for the President’s Ocean Policy Task Force
Hyatt Regency San Francisco Embarcadero Center Ballroom A 5
San Francisco, Calif.
We promised video last week of the groundbreaking ceremony for the department's new headquarters at the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus.
The work of consolidating so many of our D.C offices will save money, improve communication and coordination, and, most importantly, foster unity and cohesion as the department matures. Check out the video below from that rainy morning.
A bipartisan task force recommended Tuesday that the Obama administration
simplify and reset the U.S. government's iconic color-coded terrorism warning
system to the lowest of three new levels, if it keeps using levels at all.
The findings, which Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said
she will share with the White House and national security officials, could lead
to substantial changes to a widely panned but politically sensitive tool created
after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to alert the nation to
Since its inception, critics inside government and out have ridiculed
the Homeland Security Advisory System -- keyed to five colors running from
green, or "low risk," to red, or "severe risk" -- for being vague and
In raising and lowering alert levels 17 times from 2002 to 2006, the
Bush administration opened itself to charges that it was manipulating the system
for political effect. Tom Ridge, President George W. Bush's first homeland
security secretary, acknowledged in a recent memoir that his personal concerns
about that possibility contributed to his decision to step down after Bush's
reelection in 2004.
In practice, the nation has never been below the third, or
middle-threat, tier -- yellow, or "elevated risk." Analysts say it is unlikely
any politician would risk lowering the level, regardless of threat intelligence,
because any unexpected attack could hand opponents a political club.
Fragos Townsend, co-chairman of the Napolitano task force and Bush's former
homeland security adviser, said the system has lost the confidence of the
From the Wall Street Journal, on the H1N1 vaccine:
The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved vaccines designed to
protect against the H1N1 influenza virus, a key step before starting a
The approval was announced by Health and Human Services Secretary
Kathleen Sebelius at a hearing that was held by the House Energy and Commerce
An FDA spokeswoman said the agency approved vaccines made by a unit of
Sanofi-Aventis SA, Novartis AG, CSL Ltd. and AstraZeneca PLC's MedImmune
MedImmune makes a vaccine in the form of mist delivered through the
nose rather than a shot.
Ms. Sebelius said a large-scale vaccination program
will begin in mid-October.
The U.S. has spent more than $1 billion to purchase and administer a
total of 195 million H1N1 vaccine doses being made by five companies, including
GlaxoSmithKline PLC. Ms. Sebelius said that the agency's officials are still
working on that application.
About 40 million to 50 million vaccine doses will be available by the
middle of next month and will be distributed to each state's health department
From the Los Angeles Times, on the new path to citizenship for members of the military:
Looking more like a student than a soldier, the young Indian in jeans and a
T-shirt snapped his heels together and stood at attention in front of an
American flag. He raised his right hand and pledged to defend the United States
against all enemies.
The enlistment ceremony earlier this month at a military center near
Los Angeles International Airport took less than five minutes. With that, he
became the 101st person in Los Angeles to join the Army under a program that
significantly increases the number of immigrants eligible to serve.
"I think I'm in seventh heaven," he said, grinning.
Until recently, the 25-year-old with a master's degree from Purdue
University in Indiana would not have been permitted to sign up. He had come to
the U.S. on a student visa, and only citizens or permanent residents who carry
green cards were eligible to join the armed forces. That changed in February
when the Army started taking applications from foreigners with specific language
and medical skills who are here on temporary visas or as refugees or asylum
Although all military branches are meeting or exceeding their recruitment
goals, they have struggled to find individuals with critical skills needed in
Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond, officials said. In exchange for their service, the
foreign recruits -- who offer skills it would take years to teach -- get an
expedited path to citizenship.
6:30 PM MDT
Secretary Napolitano will deliver remarks at the Domenici Legacy Conference on Public Policy
New Mexico State University
Corbett Center Ballrooms
Las Cruces, N.M.
9:30 AM LOCAL
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Preparedness Directorate Deputy Administrator Tim Manning will participate in a panel discussion about disaster management at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Third Emergency CEO’s Forum
Sofitel Plaza Hotel, 1 Thanh nien Street
10:30 AM EDT
Transportation Security Administration Public Affairs Manager Sari Koshetz will participate in a media availability to announce funding for Explosive Detection System (EDS) equipment for an in-line system
Panama City – Bay County International Airport
4424 County Road 388
2 PM EDT
Richard Serino will participate in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing for his nomination as FEMA Deputy Administrator
342 Dirksen Senate Office Building
From the Federal Computer Week, on yesterday's "pen and pad" session with USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas:
Federal officials said Monday small business owners should be prepared to operate with fewer employees this fall as swine flu spreads across the country.
The Department of Homeland Security is issuing guidelines on combating swine flu to small businesses, which employ about half the workers in the U.S. private sector.
"They play a key role in protecting the health and safety of the country but also their own employees and also helping us limit impact of an H1N1 pandemic on our economy and our country," Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano told reporters.
A guidebook released by the Department of Homeland Security recommends small businesses identify their essential operations and have plans for operating with reduced staffing. The government also says businesses should consider letting employees work from home if they get sick.
Napolitano said small businesses could be particularly vulnerable to a pandemic because they often "have fewer resources, they work with leaner staffs and absenteeism can be a particular issue."
The new director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said today he wants to emphasize public engagement, transparency and information technology modernization of the immigration agency during his term.
To meet those goals, Alejandro Mayorkas said he has created a new Office of Public Engagement and is debuting a new, interactive Web site Sept. 22 that will allow for public feedback on agency policy and proposals. The updated Web site also will allow for greater ease of use and more access to information about pending requests and applications.
USCIS’ involvement with community stakeholders “should be more of a collaborative effort, engaged and interactive,” Mayorkas said. “We want to have the community involved at a level where we can understand what we are doing well -- and what we are doing wrong.”
Another high priority is moving forward on implementing the next stages of the USCIS’ information technology transformation project, which will digitize the agency’s paper-based records systems, Mayorkas said. The project was started in 2005 and is expected to cost more than $500 million.
“We are currently a paper-based agency, and we have to move into the electronic age,” Mayorkas said. “The modernization is already under way. It is of critical importance to the future of this agency, and critically important to me.”
From Xinhua News Agency, on a long overdue return home:
The U.S. government Monday returned some priceless pre-historic fossils to China as a result of two countries' cooperation on fight against transnational crimes.
At a ceremony at the Chinese Embassy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) returned the fossils seized during routine inspections of goods coming into the country.
Deputy Chief of Mission Xie Feng of the Chinese Embassy expressed the heartfelt gratitude to the U.S. government for its efforts to return the fossils to China.
"In recent years, China and the U.S. have developed close cooperation in law enforcement and made steady progress and prominent achievements, particularly in the fields as counter-terrorism, drug enforcement as well as combating other transnational crimes," said Xie.
"Such law enforcement cooperation will benefit the safety of our countries and the protection of our people's lives and property," he said, adding that the fossils would be well placed and preserved in the Geological Museum of China for scientific research.
8:30 AM CDT
NPPD Cyber Exercises Program Director Brett Lambo will deliver remarks about current cyber threats at the Minnesota Federal Executive Board (FEB) Cyber Security Exercise
Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building
1 Federal Drive, Suite 510
Saint Paul, Minn.
9:30 AM EDT
Under Secretary for Management Elaine Duke will testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement about investment management and acquisition challenges at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
2154 Rayburn House Office Building