On October 20, 2011, the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (Ombudsman's Office) hosted its First Annual Conference bringing together more than 300 participants with diverse backgrounds and interests, to discuss their common goal of improving the delivery of immigration and citizenship services.
Highlights from the Roundtables
- Roundtable 1: The Importance of Adjudication Predictability: Impact on Employers, Individuals, and the Economy
- Roundtable 2: Hot Topics in Asylum: An Examination of Particular Social Group and Other Serious Harm
- Roundtable 3: -601 Waivers of Inadmissibility: Does the Current Process Work? When is Hardship Extreme? Do Alternative Models Exist
- Roundtable 4: Improving Docket Efficiency through Better Communication and Coordination: Roles of USCIS, ICE, and EOIR
- Roundtable 5: The SAVE Program: Verification, Immigrants, and Public Benefits
- Roundtable 6: Demystifying the Visa Queues: An Interagency Discussion on Priority Dates, Retrogression, and Future Movement of the Visa Bulletin Cut-Off Dates
Highlights from the Keynote Remarks
Remarks from Gary Stern, NARA General Counsel
Mr. Stern shared the vibrant history and work of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and the important role NARA plays in preserving our national heritage. NARA controls over 10 billion records, including those of individuals arriving in the United States from foreign ports, U.S.-Mexican land border records, Great Lakes crew lists, naturalization records, and A-files. These records tell the story of our nation, and they help to tell the story of the work undertaken by immigration professionals, both inside and outside the Federal government.
Remarks from January Contreras, Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman
Ombudsman Contreras welcomed attendees from community and faith-based organizations, national immigration services networks, employer and industry associations, law schools, and law firms, as well as officials from government agencies, including components within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – as well as the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and State (DOS).
Ombudsman Contreras shared a video of an immigration benefits applicant who, after recently being granted permanent residency by USCIS, very movingly described her positive experience with the immigration benefits process as a sign of how this country embraced her and her family. Ombudsman Contreras noted that there are millions of similar stories every year, where a person's first impression of our nation is based on the interaction with USCIS. Ombudsman Contreras set the tone for the conference with these remarks:
As the Administration works with Congress on larger issues requiring legislation, we need to remember that we can continue to raise the bar every day on how we do our jobs. . . It doesn't take legislation to ensure a fair process or a professional interview. Regardless of whether an application is denied or approved, we need to keep working to ensure that every person has an experience like the one we heard today.
Remarks from Cecilia Munoz, White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs
Ms. Munoz welcomed the opportunity to speak with conference attendees and shared that opportunities for dialogue between stakeholders, community partners, and others invested in immigration issues is an important part of good government. Ms. Munoz felt it was especially powerful to hold the conference at NARA, surrounded by history and connected to the identity of our country as nation of immigrants.
Ms. Munoz told her immigration story, including her first memory of interacting with the government. When she was young, Ms. Munoz accompanied her mother for fingerprinting prior to her mother's naturalization. Witnessing the naturalization process made a lasting impression on Ms. Munoz, and ultimately impacted her commitment to public service.
Ms. Munoz emphasized the importance of how the government provides services because, as a country, we will be ultimately be judged on the basis of those individual decisions, which are, in turn, guided by broader policy choices. Ms. Munoz applauded the efforts of DHS to improve its delivery of services to the public. She noted that the immigration process is the method by which people become U.S. citizens; Ms. Munoz concluded that as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws, the government bears a responsibility to implement immigration laws in a fair, transparent, and service-oriented manner.
Remarks from Alejandro Mayorkas, USCIS Director
In his afternoon plenary remarks, Mr. Mayorkas emphasized how seriously USCIS values the opinion of the public. He shared the many ways in which USCIS has engaged with the immigration services community and has attempted to address issues raised. USCIS has held discussions and other stakeholder engagement activities on issues such as I-797, Notice of Action receipts, concerns regarding L-1 and EB-5 adjudications, and the recently announced Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR) initiatives.
Director Mayorkas said he hoped these initiatives would better accommodate the operational realities faced by the business community. In addition, he noted that USCIS looks forward to collaborating with the public at unprecedented levels in 2012 and will make changes that will affect both the structure of the agency and the way in which it engages in policymaking. He further stated that direct access to USCIS on cases should be a hallmark of all product lines. Finally, Director Mayorkas described how he is working to institutionalize community engagement initiatives so they have an enduring impact.
The Role of Bloggers in Immigration Services
Angelo Paparelli, Nation of Immigrators
Greg Siskind, Immigration Law and Policy
Jason Dzubow, The Asylumist
Eleanor Pelta, AILA Leadership Blog
Blogs help inform the public, demystify immigration rhetoric, and advance policy changes. This panel brought together influential bloggers from the immigration services community to share their experiences blogging, and what they hope to accomplish in the immigration world through their blog posts.
Mr. Siskind, who authors a blog on www.ILW.com called "Immigration Law and Policy," has played a key role in the history of the internet and immigration. He began the first immigration law firm website in 1994 and has continually informed immigration practitioners and policy advocates on the challenges and successes of the U.S. immigration system. During the panel, he shared the story of various immigration law firm websites and bloggers with a look at where they are now.
Mr. Dzubow, whose blog is "The Asylumist," talked about the ethics of blogging. As a filter of information, Mr. Dzubow explained that bloggers often toe the line between journalism, information collectors, social commentators, and talk show personalities.
Mr. Paparelli, who authors pens the blog "Nation of Immigrators," provided an example of how blogs also play a role informing the government. He showed data on the high number of hits from government website servers to his blog after he posted a story about USCIS. By making policy understandable, opening dialogue, and triggering external and internal discussions, bloggers play an increasing role in the immigration policy world.
Blogs often unite the immigration practitioner community on compelling issues of shared concern. Ms. Pelta, President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) shared how the AILA Leadership blog provides a voice to numerous contributors both from a technical and a policy perspective.
For additional information on the 2011 Annual Conference, please contact the Ombudsman's Office by email email@example.com or by phone at 1-855-882-8100 (toll free) or 202-357-8100 (local).