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Overview:

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency is responsible for handling all matters pertaining to immigration and the granting of citizenship to non-nationals. USCIS awards an average of one million green cards, 700,000 naturalizations and one million temporary work permits each year. The agency has been criticized for not keeping up with immigration requests, allowing backlogs to occur. USCIS raised fees it charges to immigrants seeking visas or citizenship, a move that prompted more criticism from Congress and others.

 
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History:

The United States has had a long, vital and sometimes hypocritical relationship with immigrants. On the one hand, America would never have been founded had it not been for immigrants fleeing England in the 17th Century to establish a new home. For approximately the first 100 years after the country won its independence, the US welcomed immigrants without concern. But once the founding generations of colonists were replaced by succeeding generations of US-born Americans, the country began to forget its roots and use immigrants as scapegoats for economic and political troubles.
 
During the latter half of the 19th Century, immigration began to grow as a political issue. As part of the federal government’s effort to free African-American slaves, Congress adopted the 14th Amendment in 1866 which, among other provisions, established the law granting citizenship to those born on US soil. As the century progressed, many Americans complained about new waves of European and Asian immigrants flooding into the US, claiming they took away jobs from citizens. First it was the Irish who were scorned, then Italians, then Eastern Europeans and later Chinese. Some states started to pass their own immigration laws, which prompted the Supreme Court to rule in 1875 that immigration was the responsibility of the federal government.
 
US officials created the first immigration office, the Office of the Superintendent of Immigration, within the Treasury Department in 1891. This office was responsible for admitting, rejecting and processing all immigrants seeking admission to the United States and for implementing national immigration policy. Legislation in March 1895 upgraded the Office of Immigration to the Bureau of Immigration and changed the agency head’s title from Superintendent to Commissioner-General of Immigration. The 1890s was also when Ellis Island in New York first opened, becoming the nation’s largest and busiest immigrant-processing center well into the 20th Century.
 
In 1906, Congress passed the Basic Naturalization Act, which established naturalization procedures that have endured until today. The act encouraged state and local courts to relinquish their jurisdiction over immigrants to federal courts, and it expanded the Bureau of Immigration into the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization.
Seven years later, in 1913, the Department of Commerce and Labor reorganized into today’s separate cabinet departments, and for a time, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization followed suit, each becoming a separate bureau, one for immigration, one for naturalization.
           
After World War I, immigration into the US again rose, prompting Congress to act once more by instituting the national-origins quota system. Laws passed in 1921 and 1924 limited the numbers of newcomers by assigning a quota to each nationality based upon its representation in previous US census figures. Each year, the State Department issued a limited number of visas; only those immigrants who had obtained them and could present valid visas were permitted entry. Because of the limitations that the quota system imposed on immigration, illegal attempts to enter the US first began to occur.
 
In 1933, Congress decided to rejoin immigration and naturalization into one agency, creating the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). With war brewing in Europe in the 1930s, immigration took on greater importance, especially with fears of fascist spies entering the country. President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the INS from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice in 1940. The task of securing American borders against enemy aliens became a key duty of the INS during WWII, causing it to double in size, from approximately 4,000 to 8,000 employees.
 
In 1940, the federal government adopted the Alien Registration Act of 1940, better known as the Smith Act, which made it a criminal offense to “advocate violent overthrow of the government or to organize or be a member of any group or society devoted to such advocacy.” A less controversial provision of the Smith Act was the creation of the Alien Registration Receipt Card, or “green card” as it came to be known. Obtaining a green card meant an immigrant could stay permanently in the US.
 
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan in December 1941, national fears about foreign-born citizens and residents erupted. In response, President Roosevelt signed an executive order that forced thousands of Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast to live in internment camps. The INS played a role in this forced relocation, setting up internment camps and detention facilities
 
In the post-war era, immigration concerns shifted from those of European descent to those entering the US from Latin America and Southeast Asia. In 1954, the INS instituted an aggressive effort to round up illegal Mexican immigrants in the Southwest through Operation Wetback. In 1965, Congress amended federal immigration law by replacing the national-origins system with a preference system designed to reunite immigrant families and attract skilled workers. Although the number of immigration visas available each year was still limited, Congress continued to pass special legislation, as it did for Indochinese refugees in the post-Vietnam era of the 1970s.
 
In 1986 Congress passed a controversial immigration bill, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which not only expanded the INS’s responsibilities but also granted amnesty to illegal immigrants who entered the US before January 1, 1982, and had stayed continuously in the country. The act charged INS with enforcing sanctions against American employers who hired undocumented aliens. This meant the INS was now investigating, prosecuting and levying fines against corporate and individual employers and deporting aliens found to be working illegally in the US.
 
Also during the 1980s, anti-immigrant movements began to rise, focusing mostly on Hispanic immigration in the American Southwest. This backlash continued into the 1990s with the passage of initiatives in California that helped fuel national anti-immigration movements. Those initiatives sought to ban social services to illegal immigrants (Prop. 187, most of which was later thrown out by the courts) and to eliminate bilingual education in public schools (Prop. 227).
 
The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, shifted the immigration debate in a different direction. Upon learning the hijackers of commercial airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were non-US citizens who had slipped into the country despite some of them already being on terrorist “watch lists,” federal officials decided to make dramatic changes in government operations overseeing domestic security and immigration. As part of the formation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, the INS was changed into the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The law enforcement arm of the INS, however, was turned over to a new office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
 
Immigration reform again became a hot political topic before the 2006 election. Both the House and Senate passed legislation changing immigration laws, but the two sides were unable to reconcile their differences into one bill. Republicans pushed for building a 700-mile fence along the US-Mexico border and ending the practice of “catch and release,” in which immigration officers used to free detained aliens on the promise they would leave the country voluntary. Utilized as a cost-savings measure, catch-and-release resulted in many freed immigrants staying in the country, much to the consternation of illegal immigration opponents. Although the immigration reform legislation did not pass, catch-and-release was still scuttled by ICE officials who instituted a deportation-only policy with captured undocumented workers.
 
After the 2006 election, President George W. Bush pushed for a plan that would have increased border security, instituted a temporary worker program and established a path towards legalizing the nation’s approximately 12 million illegal immigrants. Bush pushed the plan was pushed strongly, but without success.
 
“Operation Wetback”: Illegal Immigration’s Golden-Crisp Myth (by Pierre Tristam, Daytona Beach News-Journal)
#187 Illegal Aliens. Ineligibility for public services. (by Nancy H. Martis, California Jounral)

 

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What it Does:

Located within the Department of Homeland Security, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency is responsible for handling all matters pertaining to immigration and the granting of citizenship to non-nationals. USCIS awards an average of one million green cards, 700,000 naturalizations and one million temporary work permits each year. The agency decides who is eligible for lawful permanent residence in the US, which involves the granting of “green cards.” The office provides information on becoming a permanent resident, and application procedures.
 
One way immigrants can gain legal residence in the US is through employment visas. There are four categories for granting permanent residence to foreign nationals based upon employment: EB-1, EB-2, EB-3 and EB-4. Each pertains to a different category of worker, ranging from scientists and researchers to corporate executives to specially-skilled workers. USCIS also provides information to employers on how to assist potential employees attain visas.
 
Employers who wish to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis can do so through an I-129 petition. The I-129 is mainly used for nonimmigrant categories; thus, in most cases, workers who enter the US under this petition must depart the country when their maximum period of stay has been reached.
 
Immigrants can also gain visas through a family member or investment. In the case of the latter, permanent resident status is available to foreign nationals who have invested, or are actively in the process of investing, a required amount of capital ($1 million or more) into a new commercial enterprise that they have established. They must demonstrate that this investment will benefit the US economy and create a requisite number of full-time jobs within the US.
 
USCIS is also responsible for issuing student visas. Federal law provides two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons wishing to study in the US. The “F” visa is reserved for those wishing to pursue academic studies and/or language training programs, and the “M” visa is reserved for others wishing to pursue nonacademic or vocational studies.
 
USCIS confers upon foreign citizens or nationals the status of US citizenship after certain requirements are fulfilled. The general requirements for administrative naturalization include:
  • a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the US;
  • residence in a particular USCIS district prior to filing;
  • ability to read, write and speak English;
  • knowledge and understanding of US history and government;
  • good moral character;
  • attachment to the principles of the US Constitution;
  • favorable disposition toward the United States.
 
Immigration law provides for a number of humanitarian programs to assist foreign individuals in need of shelter or aid from various disasters and oppression. USCIS provides help to the following categories of people: Asylum; Refugees; Temporary Protected Status; Humanitarian Parole; Victims of Violence Against Women ; and Victims of Trafficking and Violence.
 
USCIS approves the adoption of foreign-born children by American citizens. Adopting children from all over the world has steadily increased in the past decade. There are more than 200,000 foreign-adopted children currently living in the US, and approximately 20,000 adoptions take place each year.

 

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Where Does the Money Go:

USCIS has utilized several private companies to help streamline the agency’s operations, including one of the nation’s largest defense contractors. Northrop Grumman, known more for building warplanes and missiles, was given a $750 million contract in 2007 to continue providing “biometric capture services” - aka fingerprinting technology. The defense giant has performed this service since 1999, when immigration services were handled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
 
Biometric capture services involve electronic scanning and recording of fingerprints, photographs and signatures for identification purposes. The contract work will be performed in all 50 US states at 136 Application Support Centers. Northrop Grumman claims that since it began working with immigration officials, USCIS has reduced its fingerprint rejection rate from 20% to 1.5% through implementation of fingerprint technician training, the creation of a certification training program for quality assurance and upgrades in fingerprinting computer systems.
 
In addition to Northrop Grumman, the agency gave Stanley, Inc. a $225 million contract to help make USCIS service centers run more efficiently. Stanley provides information technology services to defense and federal civilian government agencies.
USCIS service centers process applications and petitions filed by immigrants and foreign nationals seeking a variety of services.
 
SiloSmashers, a Fairfax, VA-based management and technology consulting firm, was given a five-year $31.4 million contract to help modernize USCIS operations. SiloSmashers will work with the Transformation Program Office whose mission is to transition USCIS to a paperless system.
 
PEC Solutions Inc., a communications technology company, was hired by USCIS for $4.8 million to help support the agency’s toll-free phone system that customers use to gain immigration services.
 

 

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Controversies:

USCIS Officials Reject Efficiency Efforts
According to former US officials, watchdog groups and immigrant advocates, USCIS, and its predecessor, the INS, have had a legacy of “shoddy service, years-long delays and susceptibility to fraud.” With this in mind, the Senate proposed in 2007 a series of reforms that would have slashed waiting times for green cards from nearly three years to three months and save the government about $350 million.
 
USCIS officials rejected the changes on fiscal grounds, claiming they would have cost the agency millions of dollars in lost application and renewal fees which represent a vital part of USCIS’s annual budget. Instead, agency officials preferred their own plan to raise the amount of fees that immigrants must pay.
Immigration Agency Mired In Inefficiency (by Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post)
 
Fee Increase
In May 2007 USCIS announced a fee increase that dramatically raised the cost to immigrants seeking visas and citizenship. Then-Director Emilio Gonzalez said the fee increase was necessary to finance badly needed improvements at the agency, including hiring 1,300 workers to reduce backlogs. The agency would be funded almost exclusively by the fees, following a decision by the Bush administration to severely cutback USCIS’s FY 2009 budget appropriation. The administration set USCIS’s next budget at $2.7 billion, of which $2.5 billion would be generated by fees.
 
The agency initially proposed even higher fees in February, but Congressional representatives and immigration advocates objected to the hikes. For example, the fee to apply for permanent residency would have gone up from $325 to $905 (a 178% increase). The fee for citizenship applications would have increased from $330 to $595 (an 80% increase). Instead, USCIS went with a fee structure that left some rates the same while doubling others, such as:
  • Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker went from $190 to $320
  • Form I-102 Replace I-94 Card, from $160 to $320
  • Form I-539 Application to Change/Extend Nonimmigrant Status, from $200 to $300
  • Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, from $180 to $340
  • Form I-140 Petition for an Immigrant Worker, from $195 to $475
  • Supplemental and fraud prevention fees that accompany petitions for H-1B, H2B and L-1 workers were left unchanged.
 
The American Friends Service Committee pointed out that the proposed increases contradicted statements by President Bush in his 2007 State of the Union indicating that his administration wanted to help immigrants become US citizens.
USCIS Increases Are Excessive and Unfair (American Friends Service Committee)
Budget brawl (by Daniel Widome, Natural Selection)

 

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Former Directors:

Emilio T. Gonzalez (December 2005 - April 2008)
 
A Cuban exile, Emilio T. Gonzalez graduated from the University of South Florida in Tampa with a BA in International Studies. He also earned MA degrees in Latin American Studies from Tulane University and in Strategic Studies and National Security Affairs from the US Naval War College. He was awarded a PhD degree in International Relations from the Graduate School of International Studies, University of Miami.
 
Gonzalez spent 26 years in the US Army, during which he served as a military attaché to US embassies in El Salvador and Mexico, taught at the US Military Academy at West Point and headed the Office of Special Assistants for the Commander-in-Chief of the US Southern Command. He then was director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council under National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Gonzalez left the White House and joined the Miami-based international law firm of Tew Cardenas before being selected by President Bush to lead the USCIS.
 
Observers of USCIS said Gonzalez obtained mixed results during his efforts to adopt new technology, overhaul services for immigrants and expand the agency’s workforce. By the time Gonzalez became director, USCIS was struggling to process a backlog of immigration requests dating back to Sept. 11, 2001. The agency made some progress initially in clearing up unprocessed applications for citizenship, but then stumbled again and fell behind. The average processing time, which had been reduced to seven months, ballooned to 18 months. By the end of 2007, the number of pending cases stood at almost one million. US Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) characterized the naturalization system as being “in crisis” and said many immigrants who had applied for naturalization in the hope of voting in the November 2008 presidential election won’t become citizens in time.
 
Gonzalez was credited with making the agency more accessible and responsive. But his tenure was also marked by a sharp increase in fees charged to immigrants (see Controversies).
 
Besieged immigration agency chief resigns (by Andres Viglucci, Miami Herald)

 

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Comments

Jessi 6 months ago
I got married to a guy from Turkey. We were married for about 5-6 months. Thru that time he verbally and physically abused me. Then I found out he was still illegal. I contacted the homeland security, they said they had no legal right to arrest him. He messed up my car causing me unable to travel to my home town. They arrested him, put him in jail, then deported him. I don't know where he is currently located, but I would like to get a divorce. How do I go about doing this?
Bess Coolen 2 years ago
my daughter met someone online his name is anwaar alkhaldi, he lives in champaine ,il. he swore to my daughter weather they got along or not he would get her an apartment and they would be friends. she believed him. he is from jordan and he was supposed to relinguish his green card so tell me how could the usa let them get married. my daughter had a baby with him and all he did was beat on her and leave her and take her baby. this is what the man did to her in syria, she left syria...
cheryl 2 years ago
how can a person who is an illegal immigrant file charges against someone in the united states. that happened to my son, this kid filed charges who is an illegal immigrant and who's green card has been expired for over a year or two, and he also has drug charges against him. i was just wondering who i would talk to about this situation or what to do.
eric martek 2 years ago
what is your phone number in refgards to obtaining a i-130 spouse visa. there in is no phone number on your site or information on how to obtain this visa. where in your site does it shows this information, i have not been able tyo find a phione number, info about visa on your site, how do we get info from your site?
eric martek 2 years ago
how to apply for a i-130 visa for phillipine wife
soraya sussman 2 years ago
we hear everyday that so many american citizen that all their life participated and paid social security and tax are destitute and receive minimal social security check and medicare or medicaid. and then some naturalized citizens bring their parents, brother and sisters , and either they dont live here , they just come for visit, or if they live here they never paid a penny to the system, but the minute they become citizen they receive a monthly social security check, medicare ca...

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Founded: 1891, 2003
Annual Budget:
Employees:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Mayorkas, Alejandro
Previous Director

A former U.S. Attorney who was involved in a controversial clemency decision during the Clinton years, Alejandro “Ali” Mayorkas has served as director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services since August 2009.

 
Born on November 24, 1959, in Havana, Cuba, Mayorkas was an infant when his family relocated to Beverly Hills. Both his parents were Jewish, his mother having fled from Romania to Cuba during World War II.
 
Mayorkas was co-captain of the Beverly Hills High School tennis team and president of his junior class. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of California at Berkeley (1981), and his JD from Loyola Law School (1985).
 
Mayorkas spent a year as an assistant law librarian at a Beverly Hills law firm and then almost two years as a clerk at the law office of Dennis M. Harley. From February 1986 until April 1987, he was with the Los Angeles office of Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Taylor. He then joined Cooper, Epstein & Hurewitz, a Beverly Hills entertainment law firm. Mayorkas returned to Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler for a few months in 1989, before joining the U.S. Department of Justice as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, a position he held for seven years until 1998.
 
From 1996 until 1998, he served as chief of the office’s General Crimes Section, where he trained and mentored other assistant U.S. Attorney new hires. Among his more high-profile cases was the prosecution of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss for money laundering and tax evasion. While Fleiss was in prison, the E cable channel ran a show that claimed Fleiss had cooperated with federal narcotics agents as an informant, a revelation that, if true, would have put her in great danger with her fellow prisoners. After the show aired, Mayorkas called the prison and told the authorities there that the accusation was false, thus saving Fleiss.
 
In 1998, on the recommendation of Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein of California, President Bill Clinton appointed Mayorkas the U.S. Attorney for California’s central district, making him, at age 39, the youngest U.S. Attorney in the nation at that time. During his last year at this post, he received unfavorable media coverage for his role in the decision by Clinton to commute the prison sentence of high-level cocaine dealer Carlos Vignali. Vignali’s father, Horacio Vignali, was a campaign contributor to Democratic politicians.
 
When Clinton left the White House, Mayorkas left the Justice Department and in September 2001 he became a litigation partner at the Los Angeles-based law firm O’Melveny and Myers, where he represented large corporations and other clients in high-profile cases in the U.S. and overseas, until 2009.
 
Mayorkas has been an adjunct professor at Loyola Law School and a frequent lecturer around the country. He has served as a member of the California Council on Criminal Justice, a committee of the California state government, and the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. Mayorkas also has been a director of the Federal Bar Association’s Los Angeles Chapter and has served as a member of several committees of the American Bar Association. He’s served on the audit committee and the board of governors of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the board of trustees of Drew University and the board of directors of Bet Tzedek Legal Services, which specializes in providing legal services for low-income seniors. He has also been a board member of United Friends of the Children, Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and the Anti-Defamation League.
 
Mayorkas and his wife, Tanya, have two daughters, Giselle and Amelia.
 
Alejandro (Ali) Mayorkas, Director (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)
Alejandro Mayorkas (WhoRunsGov, Washington Post)
Beg Your Pardongate (by The Prowler, American Spectator)
The Enforcer (by Ross Johnson, Los Angeles Magazine)
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Scharfen, Jonathan
Former Acting Director
Jonathan “Jock” Scharfen has served as deputy director of Citizenship and Immigration Services since June 2006. He became acting director of USCIS following Director Emilio T. Gonzalez’s resignation on April 18, 2008.
 
Scharfen received his BA from the University of Virginia, his JD from the University of Notre Dame and his LLM from the Universtiy of San Diego. He also attended the US Army War College in Carlisle, PA where he studied National Security Strategy. 
 
Scharfen began his 25-year career in the US Marine Corps in 1978 as an infantry officer in various leadership billets until 1983. From 1985 to 1988 he served on the National Security Council, first as a legal fellow until 1986 and then returned as staff counsel and assistant legal advisor until 1988. He served as trial counsel and staff judge advocate for various commands at Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, from 1988 to 1991 and deployed with the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade for Operation Desert Storm. 
 
From 1992 to 1995, Scharfen served as special counsel of environmental law for the Western Area Counsel Office in the Marine Corps. He then served as associate counsel of land use in the Office of the Counsel for the Commandant of the Marine Corps. In 1998 he was selected to command Company A, Marine Security Guard Battalion which had oversight of 20 US Embassy and Consulate Marine Security Guard Detachments throughout the US European Command’s area of responsibility, including Central Asia. He was responsible for the opening of 12 new security detachments in addition to the 20 existing detachments. 
 
In 2000 he returned to the National Security Council staff as deputy legal advisor and director until he assumed the role as chief counsel of the House International Relations Committee in April 2003 and deputy staff director in 2006.
 
 
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Bookmark and Share
Overview:

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency is responsible for handling all matters pertaining to immigration and the granting of citizenship to non-nationals. USCIS awards an average of one million green cards, 700,000 naturalizations and one million temporary work permits each year. The agency has been criticized for not keeping up with immigration requests, allowing backlogs to occur. USCIS raised fees it charges to immigrants seeking visas or citizenship, a move that prompted more criticism from Congress and others.

 
more
History:

The United States has had a long, vital and sometimes hypocritical relationship with immigrants. On the one hand, America would never have been founded had it not been for immigrants fleeing England in the 17th Century to establish a new home. For approximately the first 100 years after the country won its independence, the US welcomed immigrants without concern. But once the founding generations of colonists were replaced by succeeding generations of US-born Americans, the country began to forget its roots and use immigrants as scapegoats for economic and political troubles.
 
During the latter half of the 19th Century, immigration began to grow as a political issue. As part of the federal government’s effort to free African-American slaves, Congress adopted the 14th Amendment in 1866 which, among other provisions, established the law granting citizenship to those born on US soil. As the century progressed, many Americans complained about new waves of European and Asian immigrants flooding into the US, claiming they took away jobs from citizens. First it was the Irish who were scorned, then Italians, then Eastern Europeans and later Chinese. Some states started to pass their own immigration laws, which prompted the Supreme Court to rule in 1875 that immigration was the responsibility of the federal government.
 
US officials created the first immigration office, the Office of the Superintendent of Immigration, within the Treasury Department in 1891. This office was responsible for admitting, rejecting and processing all immigrants seeking admission to the United States and for implementing national immigration policy. Legislation in March 1895 upgraded the Office of Immigration to the Bureau of Immigration and changed the agency head’s title from Superintendent to Commissioner-General of Immigration. The 1890s was also when Ellis Island in New York first opened, becoming the nation’s largest and busiest immigrant-processing center well into the 20th Century.
 
In 1906, Congress passed the Basic Naturalization Act, which established naturalization procedures that have endured until today. The act encouraged state and local courts to relinquish their jurisdiction over immigrants to federal courts, and it expanded the Bureau of Immigration into the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization.
Seven years later, in 1913, the Department of Commerce and Labor reorganized into today’s separate cabinet departments, and for a time, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization followed suit, each becoming a separate bureau, one for immigration, one for naturalization.
           
After World War I, immigration into the US again rose, prompting Congress to act once more by instituting the national-origins quota system. Laws passed in 1921 and 1924 limited the numbers of newcomers by assigning a quota to each nationality based upon its representation in previous US census figures. Each year, the State Department issued a limited number of visas; only those immigrants who had obtained them and could present valid visas were permitted entry. Because of the limitations that the quota system imposed on immigration, illegal attempts to enter the US first began to occur.
 
In 1933, Congress decided to rejoin immigration and naturalization into one agency, creating the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). With war brewing in Europe in the 1930s, immigration took on greater importance, especially with fears of fascist spies entering the country. President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the INS from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice in 1940. The task of securing American borders against enemy aliens became a key duty of the INS during WWII, causing it to double in size, from approximately 4,000 to 8,000 employees.
 
In 1940, the federal government adopted the Alien Registration Act of 1940, better known as the Smith Act, which made it a criminal offense to “advocate violent overthrow of the government or to organize or be a member of any group or society devoted to such advocacy.” A less controversial provision of the Smith Act was the creation of the Alien Registration Receipt Card, or “green card” as it came to be known. Obtaining a green card meant an immigrant could stay permanently in the US.
 
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan in December 1941, national fears about foreign-born citizens and residents erupted. In response, President Roosevelt signed an executive order that forced thousands of Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast to live in internment camps. The INS played a role in this forced relocation, setting up internment camps and detention facilities
 
In the post-war era, immigration concerns shifted from those of European descent to those entering the US from Latin America and Southeast Asia. In 1954, the INS instituted an aggressive effort to round up illegal Mexican immigrants in the Southwest through Operation Wetback. In 1965, Congress amended federal immigration law by replacing the national-origins system with a preference system designed to reunite immigrant families and attract skilled workers. Although the number of immigration visas available each year was still limited, Congress continued to pass special legislation, as it did for Indochinese refugees in the post-Vietnam era of the 1970s.
 
In 1986 Congress passed a controversial immigration bill, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which not only expanded the INS’s responsibilities but also granted amnesty to illegal immigrants who entered the US before January 1, 1982, and had stayed continuously in the country. The act charged INS with enforcing sanctions against American employers who hired undocumented aliens. This meant the INS was now investigating, prosecuting and levying fines against corporate and individual employers and deporting aliens found to be working illegally in the US.
 
Also during the 1980s, anti-immigrant movements began to rise, focusing mostly on Hispanic immigration in the American Southwest. This backlash continued into the 1990s with the passage of initiatives in California that helped fuel national anti-immigration movements. Those initiatives sought to ban social services to illegal immigrants (Prop. 187, most of which was later thrown out by the courts) and to eliminate bilingual education in public schools (Prop. 227).
 
The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, shifted the immigration debate in a different direction. Upon learning the hijackers of commercial airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were non-US citizens who had slipped into the country despite some of them already being on terrorist “watch lists,” federal officials decided to make dramatic changes in government operations overseeing domestic security and immigration. As part of the formation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, the INS was changed into the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The law enforcement arm of the INS, however, was turned over to a new office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
 
Immigration reform again became a hot political topic before the 2006 election. Both the House and Senate passed legislation changing immigration laws, but the two sides were unable to reconcile their differences into one bill. Republicans pushed for building a 700-mile fence along the US-Mexico border and ending the practice of “catch and release,” in which immigration officers used to free detained aliens on the promise they would leave the country voluntary. Utilized as a cost-savings measure, catch-and-release resulted in many freed immigrants staying in the country, much to the consternation of illegal immigration opponents. Although the immigration reform legislation did not pass, catch-and-release was still scuttled by ICE officials who instituted a deportation-only policy with captured undocumented workers.
 
After the 2006 election, President George W. Bush pushed for a plan that would have increased border security, instituted a temporary worker program and established a path towards legalizing the nation’s approximately 12 million illegal immigrants. Bush pushed the plan was pushed strongly, but without success.
 
“Operation Wetback”: Illegal Immigration’s Golden-Crisp Myth (by Pierre Tristam, Daytona Beach News-Journal)
#187 Illegal Aliens. Ineligibility for public services. (by Nancy H. Martis, California Jounral)

 

more
What it Does:

Located within the Department of Homeland Security, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency is responsible for handling all matters pertaining to immigration and the granting of citizenship to non-nationals. USCIS awards an average of one million green cards, 700,000 naturalizations and one million temporary work permits each year. The agency decides who is eligible for lawful permanent residence in the US, which involves the granting of “green cards.” The office provides information on becoming a permanent resident, and application procedures.
 
One way immigrants can gain legal residence in the US is through employment visas. There are four categories for granting permanent residence to foreign nationals based upon employment: EB-1, EB-2, EB-3 and EB-4. Each pertains to a different category of worker, ranging from scientists and researchers to corporate executives to specially-skilled workers. USCIS also provides information to employers on how to assist potential employees attain visas.
 
Employers who wish to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis can do so through an I-129 petition. The I-129 is mainly used for nonimmigrant categories; thus, in most cases, workers who enter the US under this petition must depart the country when their maximum period of stay has been reached.
 
Immigrants can also gain visas through a family member or investment. In the case of the latter, permanent resident status is available to foreign nationals who have invested, or are actively in the process of investing, a required amount of capital ($1 million or more) into a new commercial enterprise that they have established. They must demonstrate that this investment will benefit the US economy and create a requisite number of full-time jobs within the US.
 
USCIS is also responsible for issuing student visas. Federal law provides two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons wishing to study in the US. The “F” visa is reserved for those wishing to pursue academic studies and/or language training programs, and the “M” visa is reserved for others wishing to pursue nonacademic or vocational studies.
 
USCIS confers upon foreign citizens or nationals the status of US citizenship after certain requirements are fulfilled. The general requirements for administrative naturalization include:
  • a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the US;
  • residence in a particular USCIS district prior to filing;
  • ability to read, write and speak English;
  • knowledge and understanding of US history and government;
  • good moral character;
  • attachment to the principles of the US Constitution;
  • favorable disposition toward the United States.
 
Immigration law provides for a number of humanitarian programs to assist foreign individuals in need of shelter or aid from various disasters and oppression. USCIS provides help to the following categories of people: Asylum; Refugees; Temporary Protected Status; Humanitarian Parole; Victims of Violence Against Women ; and Victims of Trafficking and Violence.
 
USCIS approves the adoption of foreign-born children by American citizens. Adopting children from all over the world has steadily increased in the past decade. There are more than 200,000 foreign-adopted children currently living in the US, and approximately 20,000 adoptions take place each year.

 

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Where Does the Money Go:

USCIS has utilized several private companies to help streamline the agency’s operations, including one of the nation’s largest defense contractors. Northrop Grumman, known more for building warplanes and missiles, was given a $750 million contract in 2007 to continue providing “biometric capture services” - aka fingerprinting technology. The defense giant has performed this service since 1999, when immigration services were handled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
 
Biometric capture services involve electronic scanning and recording of fingerprints, photographs and signatures for identification purposes. The contract work will be performed in all 50 US states at 136 Application Support Centers. Northrop Grumman claims that since it began working with immigration officials, USCIS has reduced its fingerprint rejection rate from 20% to 1.5% through implementation of fingerprint technician training, the creation of a certification training program for quality assurance and upgrades in fingerprinting computer systems.
 
In addition to Northrop Grumman, the agency gave Stanley, Inc. a $225 million contract to help make USCIS service centers run more efficiently. Stanley provides information technology services to defense and federal civilian government agencies.
USCIS service centers process applications and petitions filed by immigrants and foreign nationals seeking a variety of services.
 
SiloSmashers, a Fairfax, VA-based management and technology consulting firm, was given a five-year $31.4 million contract to help modernize USCIS operations. SiloSmashers will work with the Transformation Program Office whose mission is to transition USCIS to a paperless system.
 
PEC Solutions Inc., a communications technology company, was hired by USCIS for $4.8 million to help support the agency’s toll-free phone system that customers use to gain immigration services.
 

 

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Controversies:

USCIS Officials Reject Efficiency Efforts
According to former US officials, watchdog groups and immigrant advocates, USCIS, and its predecessor, the INS, have had a legacy of “shoddy service, years-long delays and susceptibility to fraud.” With this in mind, the Senate proposed in 2007 a series of reforms that would have slashed waiting times for green cards from nearly three years to three months and save the government about $350 million.
 
USCIS officials rejected the changes on fiscal grounds, claiming they would have cost the agency millions of dollars in lost application and renewal fees which represent a vital part of USCIS’s annual budget. Instead, agency officials preferred their own plan to raise the amount of fees that immigrants must pay.
Immigration Agency Mired In Inefficiency (by Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post)
 
Fee Increase
In May 2007 USCIS announced a fee increase that dramatically raised the cost to immigrants seeking visas and citizenship. Then-Director Emilio Gonzalez said the fee increase was necessary to finance badly needed improvements at the agency, including hiring 1,300 workers to reduce backlogs. The agency would be funded almost exclusively by the fees, following a decision by the Bush administration to severely cutback USCIS’s FY 2009 budget appropriation. The administration set USCIS’s next budget at $2.7 billion, of which $2.5 billion would be generated by fees.
 
The agency initially proposed even higher fees in February, but Congressional representatives and immigration advocates objected to the hikes. For example, the fee to apply for permanent residency would have gone up from $325 to $905 (a 178% increase). The fee for citizenship applications would have increased from $330 to $595 (an 80% increase). Instead, USCIS went with a fee structure that left some rates the same while doubling others, such as:
  • Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker went from $190 to $320
  • Form I-102 Replace I-94 Card, from $160 to $320
  • Form I-539 Application to Change/Extend Nonimmigrant Status, from $200 to $300
  • Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, from $180 to $340
  • Form I-140 Petition for an Immigrant Worker, from $195 to $475
  • Supplemental and fraud prevention fees that accompany petitions for H-1B, H2B and L-1 workers were left unchanged.
 
The American Friends Service Committee pointed out that the proposed increases contradicted statements by President Bush in his 2007 State of the Union indicating that his administration wanted to help immigrants become US citizens.
USCIS Increases Are Excessive and Unfair (American Friends Service Committee)
Budget brawl (by Daniel Widome, Natural Selection)

 

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Former Directors:

Emilio T. Gonzalez (December 2005 - April 2008)
 
A Cuban exile, Emilio T. Gonzalez graduated from the University of South Florida in Tampa with a BA in International Studies. He also earned MA degrees in Latin American Studies from Tulane University and in Strategic Studies and National Security Affairs from the US Naval War College. He was awarded a PhD degree in International Relations from the Graduate School of International Studies, University of Miami.
 
Gonzalez spent 26 years in the US Army, during which he served as a military attaché to US embassies in El Salvador and Mexico, taught at the US Military Academy at West Point and headed the Office of Special Assistants for the Commander-in-Chief of the US Southern Command. He then was director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council under National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Gonzalez left the White House and joined the Miami-based international law firm of Tew Cardenas before being selected by President Bush to lead the USCIS.
 
Observers of USCIS said Gonzalez obtained mixed results during his efforts to adopt new technology, overhaul services for immigrants and expand the agency’s workforce. By the time Gonzalez became director, USCIS was struggling to process a backlog of immigration requests dating back to Sept. 11, 2001. The agency made some progress initially in clearing up unprocessed applications for citizenship, but then stumbled again and fell behind. The average processing time, which had been reduced to seven months, ballooned to 18 months. By the end of 2007, the number of pending cases stood at almost one million. US Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) characterized the naturalization system as being “in crisis” and said many immigrants who had applied for naturalization in the hope of voting in the November 2008 presidential election won’t become citizens in time.
 
Gonzalez was credited with making the agency more accessible and responsive. But his tenure was also marked by a sharp increase in fees charged to immigrants (see Controversies).
 
Besieged immigration agency chief resigns (by Andres Viglucci, Miami Herald)

 

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Comments

Jessi 6 months ago
I got married to a guy from Turkey. We were married for about 5-6 months. Thru that time he verbally and physically abused me. Then I found out he was still illegal. I contacted the homeland security, they said they had no legal right to arrest him. He messed up my car causing me unable to travel to my home town. They arrested him, put him in jail, then deported him. I don't know where he is currently located, but I would like to get a divorce. How do I go about doing this?
Bess Coolen 2 years ago
my daughter met someone online his name is anwaar alkhaldi, he lives in champaine ,il. he swore to my daughter weather they got along or not he would get her an apartment and they would be friends. she believed him. he is from jordan and he was supposed to relinguish his green card so tell me how could the usa let them get married. my daughter had a baby with him and all he did was beat on her and leave her and take her baby. this is what the man did to her in syria, she left syria...
cheryl 2 years ago
how can a person who is an illegal immigrant file charges against someone in the united states. that happened to my son, this kid filed charges who is an illegal immigrant and who's green card has been expired for over a year or two, and he also has drug charges against him. i was just wondering who i would talk to about this situation or what to do.
eric martek 2 years ago
what is your phone number in refgards to obtaining a i-130 spouse visa. there in is no phone number on your site or information on how to obtain this visa. where in your site does it shows this information, i have not been able tyo find a phione number, info about visa on your site, how do we get info from your site?
eric martek 2 years ago
how to apply for a i-130 visa for phillipine wife
soraya sussman 2 years ago
we hear everyday that so many american citizen that all their life participated and paid social security and tax are destitute and receive minimal social security check and medicare or medicaid. and then some naturalized citizens bring their parents, brother and sisters , and either they dont live here , they just come for visit, or if they live here they never paid a penny to the system, but the minute they become citizen they receive a monthly social security check, medicare ca...

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Founded: 1891, 2003
Annual Budget:
Employees:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Mayorkas, Alejandro
Previous Director

A former U.S. Attorney who was involved in a controversial clemency decision during the Clinton years, Alejandro “Ali” Mayorkas has served as director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services since August 2009.

 
Born on November 24, 1959, in Havana, Cuba, Mayorkas was an infant when his family relocated to Beverly Hills. Both his parents were Jewish, his mother having fled from Romania to Cuba during World War II.
 
Mayorkas was co-captain of the Beverly Hills High School tennis team and president of his junior class. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of California at Berkeley (1981), and his JD from Loyola Law School (1985).
 
Mayorkas spent a year as an assistant law librarian at a Beverly Hills law firm and then almost two years as a clerk at the law office of Dennis M. Harley. From February 1986 until April 1987, he was with the Los Angeles office of Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Taylor. He then joined Cooper, Epstein & Hurewitz, a Beverly Hills entertainment law firm. Mayorkas returned to Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler for a few months in 1989, before joining the U.S. Department of Justice as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, a position he held for seven years until 1998.
 
From 1996 until 1998, he served as chief of the office’s General Crimes Section, where he trained and mentored other assistant U.S. Attorney new hires. Among his more high-profile cases was the prosecution of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss for money laundering and tax evasion. While Fleiss was in prison, the E cable channel ran a show that claimed Fleiss had cooperated with federal narcotics agents as an informant, a revelation that, if true, would have put her in great danger with her fellow prisoners. After the show aired, Mayorkas called the prison and told the authorities there that the accusation was false, thus saving Fleiss.
 
In 1998, on the recommendation of Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein of California, President Bill Clinton appointed Mayorkas the U.S. Attorney for California’s central district, making him, at age 39, the youngest U.S. Attorney in the nation at that time. During his last year at this post, he received unfavorable media coverage for his role in the decision by Clinton to commute the prison sentence of high-level cocaine dealer Carlos Vignali. Vignali’s father, Horacio Vignali, was a campaign contributor to Democratic politicians.
 
When Clinton left the White House, Mayorkas left the Justice Department and in September 2001 he became a litigation partner at the Los Angeles-based law firm O’Melveny and Myers, where he represented large corporations and other clients in high-profile cases in the U.S. and overseas, until 2009.
 
Mayorkas has been an adjunct professor at Loyola Law School and a frequent lecturer around the country. He has served as a member of the California Council on Criminal Justice, a committee of the California state government, and the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. Mayorkas also has been a director of the Federal Bar Association’s Los Angeles Chapter and has served as a member of several committees of the American Bar Association. He’s served on the audit committee and the board of governors of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the board of trustees of Drew University and the board of directors of Bet Tzedek Legal Services, which specializes in providing legal services for low-income seniors. He has also been a board member of United Friends of the Children, Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and the Anti-Defamation League.
 
Mayorkas and his wife, Tanya, have two daughters, Giselle and Amelia.
 
Alejandro (Ali) Mayorkas, Director (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)
Alejandro Mayorkas (WhoRunsGov, Washington Post)
Beg Your Pardongate (by The Prowler, American Spectator)
The Enforcer (by Ross Johnson, Los Angeles Magazine)
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Scharfen, Jonathan
Former Acting Director
Jonathan “Jock” Scharfen has served as deputy director of Citizenship and Immigration Services since June 2006. He became acting director of USCIS following Director Emilio T. Gonzalez’s resignation on April 18, 2008.
 
Scharfen received his BA from the University of Virginia, his JD from the University of Notre Dame and his LLM from the Universtiy of San Diego. He also attended the US Army War College in Carlisle, PA where he studied National Security Strategy. 
 
Scharfen began his 25-year career in the US Marine Corps in 1978 as an infantry officer in various leadership billets until 1983. From 1985 to 1988 he served on the National Security Council, first as a legal fellow until 1986 and then returned as staff counsel and assistant legal advisor until 1988. He served as trial counsel and staff judge advocate for various commands at Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, from 1988 to 1991 and deployed with the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade for Operation Desert Storm. 
 
From 1992 to 1995, Scharfen served as special counsel of environmental law for the Western Area Counsel Office in the Marine Corps. He then served as associate counsel of land use in the Office of the Counsel for the Commandant of the Marine Corps. In 1998 he was selected to command Company A, Marine Security Guard Battalion which had oversight of 20 US Embassy and Consulate Marine Security Guard Detachments throughout the US European Command’s area of responsibility, including Central Asia. He was responsible for the opening of 12 new security detachments in addition to the 20 existing detachments. 
 
In 2000 he returned to the National Security Council staff as deputy legal advisor and director until he assumed the role as chief counsel of the House International Relations Committee in April 2003 and deputy staff director in 2006.
 
 
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