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. Participants included representatives from community and faith based organizations, national networks, business and industry associations, law schools, and individual immigration practices, as well as officials from multiple government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection, as well as the Department of Justice and Department of State.
In her welcoming remarks, Ombudsman January Contreras shared a video of an 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 his or her interaction with USCIS. Ombudsman Contreras said: "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."
Ombudsman Contreras recognized her colleagues in the Ombudsman's Office for their passion and commitment to the mission of the Ombudsman's Office. In addition, she thanked USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas and USCIS employees for contributing to the conference, and for their work every day to increase engagement with the public and access to information and services.
Keynote remarks were delivered by Cecilia Muñoz, White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, who thanked all participants - both government and non-government immigration professionals - for coming together to speak with and learn from one another to continue strengthening transparency and collaboration in immigration services. She noted the significance of the dialogue that took place in a recent White House Blog posting.
Highlights of issues covered during the conference include:
- Stakeholder perspectives on recent trends in the adjudication of employment-based immigration applications;
- Current developments in particular social group definitions for asylum applicants;
- Challenges in the processing of waivers of inadmissibility filed both overseas and domestically;
- Efforts to improve docket efficiency in the Executive Office for Immigration Review's Immigration Courts through inter-agency coordination and communication;
- Impact of immigrant status verification services on access to public benefits, employment, driver's licenses, and social security with information on best practices;
- Insight into the making of the monthly Visa Bulletin and the collaborative efforts focused on efforts to address retrogression; and
- The role of bloggers in immigration services.
The Ombudsman's Office thanks each of the professionals who served as speakers and panelists, as well as the many practitioners who participated in the conference.
The Ombudsman's Office will provide additional information on its website, www.dhs.gov/cisombudsman, in the coming weeks summarizing the dialogue that took place during the conference.
For additional information on various panels and keynote remarks, which summarize the dialogue that took place during the conference, please see the conference highlights.