No matter which direction you think U.S. immigration law and policy should be heading in, you probably hope that you—or at least journalists and others who follow this sort of thing—can obtain reliable information about it. Unfortunately, that’s less and less the case.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies this issue more directly than a lawsuit recently filed by the American Immigration Council (AIC).
It alleges that, in recent cases where applicants were following all legal procedures in requesting green cards or temporary visas based on employment in the U.S., immigration officials not only seemed to add unjustifiable roadblocks to the process and issued unprecedented numbers of denials , but refused to say why.
The AIC didn’t file suit out of nowhere. Initially, it submitted not one, but two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). These asked for ten years’ worth of data about immigrant and nonimmigrant decision-making, with the idea of making sure the trends lawyers across the U.S. are observing are based on real numbers.
However, the complaint alleges, “The statutory deadline for the agency to respond to two related FOIA requests has expired and Defendant has failed to make a determination on the requests in violation of FOIA.”
That’s just one example of the government’s apparent efforts to hide within the walls of bureaucracy.
Another one, which is a bigger deal than any non-lawyer could realize, is this statement from the Executive Director of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association, Ben Johnson: “As some of you may have heard or noticed, ICE and USCIS have further reduced their liaison activities with AILA at the national and local level.”
Yawn. No, seriously, these generic-sounding liaison activities are critical. They are meetings in which lawyers have a chance to meet personally with representatives of the U.S. agencies handling immigration and ask polite (yet often pointed) questions about odd, unannounced shifts in policy or unexpected trends in handling cases.
The questions the lawyers ask aren’t out of idle curiosity. Often, they act as a check on agency behavior, as in, “Why aren’t x type of visa requests being handled according to the regulations anymore?”
Let’s take a step back and remember that these situations have little or nothing to do with unlawful immigration. USCIS has the word “services” in its very name. It’s supposed to assist the many people who are, for instance, seeking to reunite with family in the U.S. or offer needed skills to U.S. employers. If the agency won’t even explain what it’s doing any more, that’s a concern for anyone interested in upholding the law.