Immigration officers union warns against Senate immigration bill

Caroline May | Reporter

The president of the union representing 12,000 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services adjudications officers and staff has added his name to a letter of law enforcement officials detailing their concerns about the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration bill.

In a statement to be released Monday, obtained by The Daily Caller, Kenneth Palinkas, president of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, offers his AFL-CIO affiliated union’s concerns with the current immigration system and contends that the Senate bill does not address those concerns. He further points out that, like the Immigration and Custom Enforcement employees union, the USCIS Council was not consulted in the bill’s drafting and urges lawmakers to oppose the bill.

“We at USCIS are honored to stand with immigration officers and law enforcement officials across the nation,” says Palinkas in the statement.

“Dedicated USCIS adjudications officers and staff perform the indispensable work of reviewing millions of applications every single year for those seeking to receive visas, become citizens and permanent residents, or to otherwise adjust their immigration status. The mission of our federal employees is critical to identifying threats and providing for public safety and national security. We are the very backbone of our nation’s immigration system and will be at the center of implementing any immigration reform.”

According to Palinkas’ statement and the letter — signed by over 40 law enforcement officials, including National Immigration and Custom Enforcement Council President Chris Crane and chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, Zach Taylor — the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill will not correct the current enforcement problems endemic to America’s immigration system. The letter was distributed to every member of Congress earlier this month.

In his statement, Palinkas highlights nine issues his union believes the Gang of Eight legislation fails to address with the current immigration system, including the fact that Palinkas says USCIS has become an application “approval machine” where few applications are denied due to a “rubber stamp” culture, “discouraging proper investigation into red flags and discouraging the denial of any applications.”

The bureaucracy of the current immigration system, Palinkas argues, makes coordination with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents difficult and “USCIS officers are pressured to approve visa applications for many individuals ICE agents have determined should be placed into deportation proceedings.”

Palinkas further decries what he calls Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s “secretive panels,” which must approve USCIS officers’ notices for illegal immigrants to appear before federal judges to be put in removal proceedings.

“USCIS officers who identify illegal aliens that, in accordance with law should be placed into immigration removal proceedings before a federal judge, are prevented from exercising their authority and responsibility to issue Notices To Appear (NTAs),” the statement reads.

“In the rare case that an officer attempts to issue an NTA, it must first be approved by a secretive panel created under DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, which often denies the officer’s request. Illegal aliens are then permitted to remain in the United States as USCIS officers are not able to take action or contact ICE agents for assistance.”

According to Palinkas, USCIS is currently in the business of catering to illegal immigrants and their lawyers, not the American people and the rule of law.

“While we believe in treating all people with respect, we are concerned that this agency tasked with such a vital security mission is too greatly influenced by special interest groups—to the point that it no longer properly performs its mission,” the statement reads.

The approval rate for illegal immigrants’ applications for legal status under the Obama administration’s deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) policies, Palinkas added, is currently 99.5 percent.

“DHS and USCIS leadership have intentionally established an application process for DACA applicants that bypasses traditional in-person investigatory interviews with trained USCIS adjudications officers,” he says.

“These practices were put in place to stop proper screening and enforcement, and guarantee that applications will be rubber-stamped for approval, a practice that virtually guarantees widespread fraud and places public safety at risk.”

Further, Palinkas says that while illegal immigrants applying for legal status under DACA are required to pay a fee, DHS and USCIC have been waiving these fees, something he expects to continue if the Senate immigration bill becomes law. He adds that taxpayers are currently “absorbing the cost of over $200 million worth of fee waivers bestowed on applicants for naturalization during the last fiscal year.”

“This is in addition to the strain put on our Social Security system that has been depleted by an onslaught of refugees receiving SSI benefits as soon as their feet touch U.S. soil,” he says.

Palinkas’ statement goes on to say that large portions of the Immigration and Nationality Act  “are not effectively enforced for legal immigrants and visa holders, including laws regarding public charges as well as many other provisions, as USCIS lacks the resources to adequately screen and scrutinize legal immigrants and non-immigrants seeking status adjustment.”

“There is also insufficient screening and monitoring of student visas” and an ineffective USCIS computer system, the statement says, which allows immigrants to upload their information. The program, he says, costs $2 billion but currently only accepts one form.

“In closing, the legislation will provide legal status to millions of visa overstays while failing to provide for necessary in-person interviews,’ Palinkas says in the statement.

“Legal status is also explicitly granted to millions who have committed serious immigration and criminal offenses, while dramatically boosting future immigration without correcting the flaws in our current legal immigration process. We need immigration reform that works. This legislation, sadly, will not.”

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