On June 1, 2021, President Biden heralded the 30 days when Spring transitions into Summer as “National Immigrant Heritage Month,” by issuing a Proclamation that paid homage to immigrants’ contributions past, and offered lofty, aspirational goals:
In every era, immigrant innovators, workers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders have fortified and defended us, fed us and cared for us, advanced the limits of our thinking, and broken new ground. . . .
I have directed Federal agencies to rebuild trust in our immigration system that has been lost, to reach out to underserved communities unable to access the opportunities our Nation offers them, to offer again a welcoming humanitarian hand to the persecuted and oppressed, and to reduce barriers to achieving citizenship and equality.
The Proclamation comes on the heels of three recent auspicious developments:
- Orders from the Top. As the New York Times recently reported, “Biden Aims to Rebuild and Expand Legal Immigration,” the White House is reviewing an internal but unpublished May 3, 2021 “46-page draft blueprint . . . [which] maps out the Biden administration’s plans to significantly expand the legal immigration system, including methodically reversing the efforts to dismantle it by former President Donald J. Trump. . .” The plan appears to be the response to President Biden’s February 5, 2021 Executive Order 14012, “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans,” which requires the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security (in which USCIS resides) to devise a plan within 90 days to “identify barriers that impede access to immigration benefits and fair, efficient adjudications of these benefits and make recommendations on how to remove these barriers, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law.” Among other things, the plan, once implemented, would help high-skilled noncitizens, and farmworkers. Offering strategies that “could be put into practice without passage of Biden’s proposed overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws,” the plan also features these proposed improvements:
Immigrants who apply online could pay less in fees or even secure a waiver in an attempt to ‘reduce barriers’ to immigration. And regulations would be overhauled to ‘encourage full participation by immigrants in our civic life.’
- Immigration Stakeholder Suggestions Invited and Submitted. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Department of Homeland Security component which adjudicates requests for naturalization, green cards, work permits, work visas and a host of other immigration-benefits requests, invited public comments in a notice entitled, “Identifying Barriers Across USCIS Benefits and Services,” during a 30-day period that ended on May 19, 2021. Included among the more than 7,390 comments received was one from the 40 immigration lawyers in Seyfarth’s Business Immigration Group (BIG). Our comment – authored by Leon Rodriguez (former USCIS Director under President Obama), Dawn Lurie, Tieranny Cutler, and this blogger – shared with USCIS the results of a customized survey of our clients (ranging from Fortune 100 to midsize companies, including publicly traded and privately held entities). Our immigration clients gave us a bountiful feast of suggested improvements, and we added many of our own, all of which USCIS is now digesting. (Meanwhile, to stay on top of immigration and other public policy news, please subscribe to our Policy Matters podcasts and newsletters offered by Seyfarth’s Government Relations & Policy practice group.)
- New Boss Waiting in the Wings. On May 26, 2021, President Biden’s nominee for USCIS Director, Ur Mendoza Jaddou, appeared before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Her immigration qualifications – both in and outside government – are extensive and impeccable. She gracefully handled Senators’ questions and appears slated for bipartisan confirmation soon.
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To be sure, these portents of fresh changes are tantalizing. Yet, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” a phrase that some attribute to Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Bluntly stated, however, legal-immigration stakeholders are famished, impatient and ornery. There is simply no more time for impossible dreaming. Federal immigration agencies must hurry up!