Citizenship agency charts a new course with tax challenges

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SAN DIEGO (AP) – A month before being named the head of President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team at the Homeland Security Department, Ur Jaddou said his agency’s top priority which grants citizenship and visas should be a better mastery of its roll. roller coaster finance. US Citizenship and Immigration Services was on the verge of laying off nearly 70% of its 20,000 employees that summer when, almost overnight, it said it would end the year with a large surplus.

Now, as Jaddou’s first year as the agency director draws to a close, she seems cautiously optimistic, saying: A volatile situation, but we are beautiful, we are strong.

USCIS, the acronym by which the agency is known, relies almost entirely on collecting fees for an annual transaction of nearly $ 5 billion. Reserves at the end of the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 stood at $ 1.5 billion, “that’s where we want to be,” Jaddou told The Associated Press in an interview.

A temporary hiring freeze and no longer requiring new biometric data for renewal of services, introduced in March 2020, helped strengthen the agency, Jaddou said.

Officials in President Donald Trump’s administration have attributed the return of last year’s financial precipice to higher-than-expected charges levied in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic and at the end of some contracts.


USCIS, which also plays a leading role in asylum and refugee resettlement, may be a much less familiar name than other homeland security agencies, like the Border Patrol, but it’s essential for the immigration system. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat then representing a Miami-area district in Congress, said during a USCIS finance hearing last year that about 70% of calls to her office were related to his work.

The Trump administration has made major changes to the agency, including expanding its fraud investigation unit and a focus on immigrants being financially self-sufficient to stay in the country.

The fees imposed on the richest applicants have long subsidized other operations, such as asylum, which do not generate income. The Biden administration will soon be proposing a new pricing structure for the agency.

“Number one, we believe the immigration system shouldn’t be just for the rich,” Jaddou said, contrasting with the Trump-era mantra of self-sufficiency.

Jaddou, who was born in the San Diego area and raised by Mexican and Iraqi immigrant parents, served as chief counsel at USCIS during President Barack Obama’s second term, working alongside Alejandro Mayorkas, a former director of USCIS who is now his boss as Secretary of Homeland Security. . During Trump’s presidency, she was the director of DHS Watch, a group funded by immigration advocacy group America’s Voice. She recited key financial and operational metrics from memory in an interview in October 2020 in which she said a budget review should be the top priority for the new USCIS director.

On Thursday, USCIS released a list of “accomplishments” for the fiscal year that ended September 30, including naturalized citizenship for 855,000 people, working green cards for 172,000, and assistance for tens of thousands of Afghans and their families who fled after the end of the American 20-year war in their country.

Wait times for citizenship applications increased last year, as they did during Trump’s presidency, to about a year. The agency acknowledged a growing backlog for all benefits that recently exceeded 8 million, but highlighted the dropping of the biometrics requirement for renewals and other efficiency measures as “significant progress.” .

More than four months after the Senate approved Jaddou’s nomination in a vote of 47-34 along party lines, the director assesses the changes of the Trump era, including the expansion of anti-unity. -fraud and pressure to withdraw citizenship from people who obtained it by lying or cheating.

Jaddou did not reverse a 2018 change in the agency’s mission statement that garnered passionate praise and criticism. Trump Representative Francis Cissna cut off reference to the United States as an “immigrant nation.”

“It’s something we’re working on,” Jaddou said.


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