USCIS has a Senate-confirmed director for the first time in more than two years

USCIS has a Senate-confirmed director for the first time in more than two years

The U.S. Senate on Friday confirmed President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Ur Jaddou, a daughter of Mexican and Iraqi immigrants, becomes the first woman to head the agency, and its first Senate-confirmed director in more than two years, Roll Call reports.

All Senate Republicans voted against Jaddou, who as a former USCIS chief counsel and immigrant rights advocate enters the role with a swath of knowledge and experience. In fact, ahead of her vote, Roll Call reported that Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said she “may be the most qualified person ever to be nominated for this job.” And, wow, is her work cut out for her.

USCIS has been no stranger to bureaucratic delays, seeing a backlog of nearly 400,000 citizenship applications near the end of the Obama administration, in just one example. This then nearly doubled under the next president in late 2017, to 730,000 pending forms. But that racist president then also transformed this historically paper pushing agency into one of the weapons of his anti-immigrant campaign.

“USCIS shifted its focus from ways to more efficiently screen and provide immigration benefits to enacting policies to restrict immigrants at the border and elsewhere from gaining access to the U.S.,” Hamed Aleaziz reported for BuzzFeed News. “It also issued proposals to charge for asylum applications, limit access to protections at the US border, and deny permanent residency to immigrants who officials believed were likely to use public benefits.”

Some changes tried to be subtle. In 2018, then-director Francis Cissna struck “nation of immigrants” from the agency’s mission statement. But then Cissna was among the officials purged by then White House aide and noted white supremacist Stephen Miller, and illegally replaced with know-nothing and anti-immigrant loudmouth Ken Cuccinelli. “It has become clear that the goal of this Administration is to end immigration all together,” said Danielle Spooner, president of the union representing USCIS employees. “How better to do that then (sic) by appointing as the leader of USCIS someone who knows nothing about immigration, Adjustment of Status or Naturalization, and whose sole purpose is to destroy the agency that grants these benefits?” 

“The Trump admin has built a second wall that prevents legal immigrants in the U.S. from becoming voting U.S. citizens,” National Partnership for New Americas’ Joshua Hoyt told NBC News at the time.It was damn near the end of USCIS itself too. By summer 2020, the agency was set to furlough more than 13,000 of its 20,000 employees. Immigration Impact reported at the time that thousands of green cards remained unprinted and unsent because the broke agency couldn’t print them. That was no accident. 

While USCIS then canceled plans to furlough its workers, it didn’t cancel that administration’s overall anti-immigrant mission and politicization of the agency.

In August, that administration shockingly staged a naturalization ceremony as part of the Republican National Convention (remember that?). Two of the immigrants who were naturalized that day said they had no prior knowledge that this would happen. Then in November, that administration implemented its own version of the naturalization test featuring questions with a “subtle political stance,” one expert said. The Biden administration would later toss that out. Biden transition officials were also blocked from meeting with USCIS due to the then-General Services Administration administrator Emily Murphy’s refusal to recognize Biden’s victory (remember her?).

Immigrant right advocates and advocates celebrated the confirmation of Jaddou, who was formerly the director of DHS Watch. The group “upholds transparency and accountability by exposing serious cases of misconduct and highlighting weak policies, poor infrastructure, scarce resources, and mismanagement of institutions that should ensure accountability,” a mission statement said.

“Jaddou has two decades of experience in immigration law and policy, and we are hopeful that she will lead the agency towards good governance, transparency, and accountability,” tweeted the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. “We congratulate Ur Mendoza Jaddou on her confirmation as Director of @USCIS,” tweeted the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “With her many years of experience, we believe she’ll be tremendous in her role.” Astrid Silva, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient and executive director of Dream Big Nevada, tweeted “we have a new @USCIS Director—time to clean up the mess.”

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