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Trump Administration to Close International Immigration Offices
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13 Mar 2019 10:44 PM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: L. Francis Cissna (Image source: Public domain)

 

While the Trump administration is painting this as something that is going to help immigration services in the United States, it's first hard to believe that this administration would do anything to help immigration, and then it's also hard to imagine why any time you remove resources that it speeds the process up.

 

On Tuesday U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L. Francis Cissna sent a staff email that explained the administration is preparing to close all international offices. They'll be transferring all the normal duties of those offices to domestic offices and the State Department's embassies and consulates.  

The agency will move to close these international offices in the months ahead "in an effort to maximize our agency's finite resources," as long as the State Department agrees.

 

"I believe by doing so we will better leverage our funds to address backlogs in the United States while also leveraging existing Department of State resources at post," said Cissna in the email. 

"Change can be difficult and can cause consternation. I want to assure you we will work to make this as smooth a transition as possible for each of our USCIS staff, while also ensuring that those utilizing our services may continue to do so and our agency operations continue undisrupted."

 

This will affect more than 20 offices, including several in Mexico, a couple in China, and one that will close before it even opens in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Also affected will be offices in New Delhi, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Rome, and other foreign locations. These offices handle emergencies, backlogs in petitions, and provide information in foreign languages. They also investigate fraud. 

The administration believes closing down the international office will allow them to shift resources so that they can reduce the backlogs back in the States. They believe this move will save millions of dollars every year.

 

Some worry this is all just another move to discourage foreign-born individuals from coming tot he U.S., while experts believe this will shrink the engagement between the U.S. and the rest of the world. 

"It is a pullback from the international presence of USCIS," said León Rodriguez, a former USCIS director. "It's in keeping with this isolationist bent that this administration has had more broadly."

 

The State Department announced their support of the USCIS move in a statement. "Consular Affairs proudly provides services on USCIS' behalf at more than 200 posts worldwide," read the statement. 

"Should USCIS overseas offices be phased out, we anticipate a smooth transition and continued efficient processing of USCIS-related work at all of our missions overseas."

 

These international offices facilitate potential immigrant applications. Once they close the offices, 70 staffers will be reassigned. This certainly makes it seem like it will bottleneck the process even more. 

USCIS also gives their expertise to international adoptions. "These are services that U.S. citizens are paying for," said the vice president of the Virginia-based National Council for Adoption, Ryan Hanlon. The fees from the immigrant and U.S. citizens help support USCIS, "It shouldn't be more complex."

 

Jessica M. Vaughan, a former consular officer and current policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies, believes the State Department officers are better equipped to handle those duties.  

"It's really a better fit for the State Department to be performing this very critical function," she said, "and it's very expensive for CIS because they've got to send an employee overseas. The State Department is already there."

 

The Department of Homeland Security stated that this is all part of an overall effort to better streamline immigration operations in the U.S. It also comes as the administration is trying reel in immigration controls. 

If the State Department agrees to take on these extra duties, the employees in the international offices will transfer back to the States. USCIS doesn't believe this will affect any of their normal functions.

 

Still, others, including immigration lawyers, are skeptical because of all the moves the administration has made in the past to negatively affect immigration.  

"This is not an immigration-friendly administration," said George Bruno, an immigration lawyer and former ambassador to Belize. "The service currently being provided is awful, and I can only imagine it's going to deteriorate further with these office closures.

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