Immigration matters are handled at the national level by the country’s oldest and newest departments. The oldest department dates back to our nation’s founding, while the newest department is still in its teenage years. The U.S. Department of State, which issues visas to foreign citizens, was created in 1789, two years after the U.S. Constitution was signed. In comparison, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), which handles the adjudication of most immigration benefits, was created in 2002 in response to the September 11 attacks of 2001. In the nearly 250 year history of the United States, the federal government has gone through many alterations to its division of labor. Within these large and historic departments are agencies that handle the day-to-day operations of our representative democracy.
The current agency that manages the country’s immigration and naturalization processes is United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). It was created in 2003 and is part of the relatively new Department of Homeland Security. Like the many other democratic institutions in the government, USCIS is constantly changing, updating, and reforming its rules and regulations in accordance with the law.
USCIS is responsible for processing the mountains of forms and applications for potential immigrants, citizens, visa holders, and other immigration matters. According to USCIS statistics, the agency adjudicates more than 26,000 requests for benefits every day. Such a large volume, combined with stricter policies, can create large backlogs and long processing times. Some of the most popular forms USCIS receives can have processing times of longer than a year.
As part of the executive branch, the trajectory of the DHS and USCIS can change with shifting politics at the national level. Immigration has certainly not been insulated from such changes. Earlier this year, USCIS revised its own mission statement. The old mission statement included the phrase “securing America’s promise as a nation of immigrants.” The new mission statement omitted that phrase, and instead reaffirmed “securing the homeland and honoring our values.” This change indicates the government’s stance on different national issues.
Interestingly, though USCIS is a federal agency, it receives almost no direct funding from the government. Instead, the majority of the agency’s income is derived from fees associated with filing forms. For instance, Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, has a filing fee of $640 (plus $85 for biometrics and background checks). These fees make up nearly the entire budget for the agency’s operations.
A relatively new history, large responsibilities, and rapidly changing politics can have dramatic impacts on how USCIS manages its responsibilities. USCIS routinely publishes new policy memoranda when it makes changes, and it must ensure that its new procedures are still in line with the law. Interacting with the government concerning your immigration status is a complex and case-specific process. If you, or anyone you know, have questions about your eligibility for certain immigration benefits, and the processes therein, please contact a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney.
Sources and further reading:
Processing Times and Forms
Changing Mission Statement