Finding the Connection: USCIS Employee Receives Secretary’s Award for Championing Equity
Intrigued by the diverse backgrounds and compelling reflections of many personnel within the Office of Intake and Document Production (OIDP) employees, Curtis Atkinson, Division Chief, Planning and Resources Division, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), inspired the creation of a video collection of "Immigration Stories" told by the staff highlighting their individual journey, or their families experience, in coming to the United States.
The touching stories cover the various aspects of immigrating to a new country as a refugee, through international adoption or as a foreign student; being a first-generation immigrant; overcoming language barriers; passing the naturalization test; and finally becoming a Naturalized Citizen. The videos incorporated visually appealing graphics, pictures of documents and photographs capturing the spirit of each employee's journey.
Atkinson, who celebrated 18 years of federal service in March, published the series in USCIS Today for USCIS employees to view nationwide. The concept of sharing "immigrant stories" was expanded and offered to all USCIS employees across the agency.
The idea for the “Immigration Stories” came to Atkinson, who has worked for USCIS for 14 years, after learning about his deputy, Shadi Sabbagh’s, story.
“My deputy immigrated with his family from Jordan when he was very young,” said Atkinson, who has worked in OIDP for the last 12 years. “During his job interview, he spoke with such pride about working for USCIS and being on the other side of immigration (processes). I figured that he was not the only one with such a fondness for the noble mission of USCIS, so I reached out to those I knew who had a story to share. Fortunately, they all agreed to share their deeply personal journey through the immigration process.”
The first compilation immigration video that was featured in OIDP’s 10-year anniversary celebration in 2020. The theme was 1 mission, 10 years, 10 stories.
“1/10/10 was also the founding date of OIDP,” said Atkinson. “The stories received such an outpouring of positive feedback that we decided to expand the series to 20 stories (1 mission, 10 years, 20 stories). 1/10/20 is the actual date of OIDP’s 10-year anniversary.”
Atkinson shares responsibility for the creation and success of these stories with his colleagues.
“This was so much of a team effort,” he said. “Each interviewee was provided a general list of questions so that they would be able to tell a cohesive story of their immigration journey.”
Additionally, Atkinson launched "Something to Think About: The Race Forward Series." This on-demand discussion covers a multitude of issues affecting not only the work environment, but employees' everyday lives. Employees who have been impacted in one way or another by the related issue, participated in a recorded panel discussion.
Atkinson’s team created two “The Race Forward” videos which focused on equal justice for the African-American community and Stop Asian Hate, which was an emotional conversation facilitated by staff of Asian descent. The panelists provided thoughts and shared stories regarding race relations impacting the African and Asian American communities.
“With everything going on in the world with social injustice and civil unrest, we wanted to provide an outlet for staff to process emotions related to what was going on in the world,” said Atkinson. “OIDP in the past has dealt with issues of diversity via town halls and smaller discussion groups. The video provided some staff the safe space to watch at their leisure rather than process in a room full of their peers.”
The Secretary's Champion of Equity Award
Atkinson received the Secretary’s Champion of Equity Award for his work to incorporate employee's unique experiences through engaging video segments and pre recorded panel discussions. He provides USCIS staff with insight into the actual challenges faced by the immigrant populations USCIS serves while offering alternative ways to raise awareness of cultural diversity in the workplace and society.
“It is an extreme honor!” he said. “I am honored to have the work of my team recognized. My team is committed to engaging OIDP. They are creative, passionate, and extremely good at their jobs. I am so proud to lead such a dynamic group of dedicated staff. To be recognized for this effort is an honor of a lifetime.”
Visit the Recognizing DHS Excellence page for more stories about this year’s awardees.