AZMEX I3 3 JAN 2012
Note: would be very curious to know who is getting these visas.
The Daily Exclusive: RUBBER STAMP
Probe reveals feds pressuring agents to rush immigrant visas – even
if fraud is feared
By Sarah Ryley Tuesday, January 3, 2012
One-quarter of the USCIS officers surveyed said they have pressured
to approve questionable cases.
Higher-ups within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are
pressuring rank-and-file officers to rubber-stamp immigrants' visa
applications, sometimes against the officers' will, according to a
Homeland Security report and internal documents exclusively obtained
by The Daily.
A 40-page report, drafted by the Office of Inspector General in
September but not publicly released, details the immense pressure
immigration service officers are under to approve visa applications
quickly, sometimes while overlooking concerns about fraud,
eligibility or security.
One-quarter of the 254 officers surveyed said they have been
pressured to approve questionable cases, sometimes "against their will."
The report does not call out any particular officials and indicates
that the agency has had a problem with valuing quantity over quality
since at least the 1980s.
But high-ranking USCIS officials said the pressure has heightened
after the Obama administration appointed Alejandro Mayorkas as
director in August 2009 during an effort to pass comprehensive
immigration reform, bringing with him a mantra of "get to yes."
Internal communications provided to The Daily indicate that the new
leadership seemed to fundamentally clash with career agency employees
over when to afford the benefit of the doubt, culminating in a
whistle-blower investigation into a senior appointee and, ultimately,
the agency-wide inspector general inquiry that produced the report.
"We recognize their right to interpret things as liberally as
possible, but you still have to follow the law," said one high-
ranking official who was unhappy with the current push.
At least five agency veterans seen as being too tough on applicants
were either demoted, or given the choice between a demotion or a
relocation from Southern California — where their families were — to
San Francisco and Nebraska, according to sources and letters of
reassignment provided to The Daily.
Those kind of threats have caused lower-level employees to fall in
line, sources said.
"People are afraid," said one longtime manager, who requested
anonymity for fear of being fired. "Integrity only carries people so
far because they've got to pay the rent."
A rank-and-file officer who was not involved in the investigation
claimed he was demoted to working on less technical cases because he
had a high denial rate. "They don't reprimand you, they just move
you," he said.
"They attempted to basically get me to come into line and approve a
bunch of cases. And I just wouldn't compromise myself because the
approvals they ordered, they weren't in line with the laws," said the
These employees' claims are reflected in the inspector general
report, which found that 14 percent of respondents had "serious
concerns" that employees who focused on fraud or ineligibility were
evaluated unfairly. The report also found that supervisors sometimes
take cases away from an unwilling officer and assign them to someone
else, against agency rules.
Recommendations for improvements in the report included raising the
burden of proof and doing away with the popular informal and special
appeals practices, which immigration lawyers said would only lengthen
an already onerous process.
Attorney David Leopold, who was recently president of the American
Immigration Lawyers Association, said the formal appeals process can
take up to two years.
"When you're dealing with business visas, those visas cannot wait
around a year, or two years, for review. They needed an answer
yesterday," said Leopold. "I think when they've [the officers] made a
mistake at that level ... sometimes you can just reason with people
and ask them to take a look at it again."
Nevertheless, USCIS approved 86 percent of the 3.9 million
immigration cases it reviewed between October 2008 and October 2009 —
a 4 percent drop from the year before, according to the most recent
data provided to The Daily.
And immigration attorneys complained that it seems like officers are
just looking for reasons to deny a case, and already demand a higher
standard of proof than what is required. That standard is now
considered a 51 percent likelihood that a fact is true.
"We're getting ridiculous denials and requests for evidence on things
that should be approved very easily," said immigration attorney Deb
Notkin, adding that it's particularly tough for specialty industries
like fashion, software development and graphic design.
The attorneys applauded Mayorkas' more open dialogue with them, and
other proponents of immigration reform, who had previously felt shut
out of the bureaucracy. "Mayorkas, to his credit, is very accessible,
so we are able to express our concerns about the adjudication
process," said Leopold.
But sometimes, the openness led to a perception that private
attorneys were "running" the agency, according to the inspector
general's report, which cited emails in which individual cases were
granted special review after private attorneys complained to management.
Mayorkas and Homeland Security press officers said yesterday they
could not comment on the allegations.