Sign-On Letter Urges BCIS to Restore Direct Phone Access to Service Centers

September 4, 2003

The Honorable Eduardo Aguirre, Jr.
Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
Department of Homeland Security
425 I Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C.  20536

Dear Mr. Aguirre:

The undersigned organizations write to urge you to restore direct telephone access to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) Service Centers and discontinue the recent policy change that prohibits this access and contracts out much of this function.

The prompt adjudication of applications and petitions is critical for American business, for families awaiting reunification, and, most importantly, for our national security.  In doing away with direct telephone access to the Service Centers, the BCIS has exacerbated already lengthy processing delays and made it much more difficult to obtain accurate, timely information. And contracting out this function has lead to problems that range from the frustrating to the tragic. Moreover, Congressional offices are being forced to fill the information void, as individuals resort to contacting their elected officials with their case-processing and informational requests.

As you are aware, until June 9, 2003, the general public and attorneys could contact representatives at the legacy INS/BCIS Service Centers to ask questions about the status of their cases, clarify and correct problems, and inquire about filing procedures.  While this system was infamous for the length of time required to get through to an Immigration Information Officer (IIO), nevertheless, once connected with an IIO, problems and questions, including emergency case problems, were addressed.  Beginning on June 9, the BCIS cut off direct phone access to the Service Centers and mandated that callers (both the general public and attorneys) make inquiries through a 1-800 number system. 

As structured, the new system does not provide a meaningful way to resolve problems.  As outside contractors, the 800 number operators are unfamiliar with immigration.  They are given very basic “scripts” from which to field calls, and have access only to information already provided on the BCIS website’s case status inquiry system.  In other words, they cannot tell callers anything more than what callers can see on-line.

While the new system allows 800 number operators to transfer calls to a “Second Tier” information officer, a BCIS employee who is familiar with immigration issues, or can take information from callers in order to refer the inquiry to the appropriate Service Center, these options have not helped to address problems and do not allow immediate action on emergency cases, such as an aging-out child.  Operators are restricted as to the types of cases that they can refer to the Service Centers or to Tier 2, and often direct callers to write a letter to the Service Center after informing them that there isn’t anything the operator can do.  However, letters to Service Centers often go unanswered or, at best, languish for months before a response is received.   In the event that a caller’s request falls within the designated types of problems that can be referred, the caller is then told to wait for 30 days.  If no response is received within that time frame, the caller is directed to call the 800 number again.  In many cases, no response is received, or the response is non-informative.

The 800 number system also cannot correct inaccurate information on an approval notice. In the past, individuals could call the Service Center to request that such errors be corrected, and a new approval notice could be issued the same day or within just a few days. (Individuals who must apply for visas at U.S. Consulates or travel abroad and return to the United States must have approval notices that are, for security reasons, 100% accurate.)

Finally, 800 number operators have given inaccurate information to callers (which could severely damage the foreign national’s immigration status) and many people have complained that operators are rude and hung up on them.

The 800 number system is a failure.  We urge you to restore direct telephone access to the Service Centers so that individuals can gain the information they need and resolve case processing problems directly with a knowledgeable Immigration Information Officer (IIO). 


National Organizations

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
American Friends Service Committee
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Asian Law Caucus
Episcopal Migration Ministries
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)
Immigrant Legal Resource Center
Immigration and Refugee Services of America/U.S. Committee for Refugees
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS)
National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium
National Council of La Raza
National Immigration Forum
Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, AFL-CIO, CLC (UNITE)
United Jewish Communities
World Relief

Local Organizations

Alivio Medical Center (Chicago, IL)
Arab-American Family Support Center, Inc. (Brooklyn, NY)
Arab Community Center for Economic & Social Services (ACCESS) (Dearborn, Michigan)
Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California
Association House of Chicago
Association of the Jews from the FSU (Milwaukee, WI )
Carlos Rosario Career Center and Public Charter School (Washington, DC)
Center for Hispanic Policy & Advocacy, CHisPA (Providence, RI)
Center for Training and Careers/WorkNET (San Jose, CA)
Centro Campesino Farmworker Center, Inc. (Florida City, FL)
Centro Presente, Inc. (Cambridge, MA)
Centro Salvadoreno (Hempstead, NY)
Conexión Américas (Nashville, TN)
El Pueblo, Inc. (NC)
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, Inc. (Miami, FL)
Friendly House, Inc. (AZ)
Hispanic American Council (Kalamazoo, MI)
Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Minnesota
Hispanic Democrats (Mecklenburg County, NC)
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (Chicago, IL)
Immigrant Rights Network of Iowa and Nebraska
Independent Monitoring Board (Chicago, IL)
International Institute of New Jersey (Jersey City, NJ)
Jewish Family Services (Milwaukee, WI)
La Causa, Inc.  (Milwaukee, WI)
La Esperanza, Inc. (Georgetown, DE)
Latin American Community Center (Wilmington, DE)
Latino Health and Community Services Inc. (South Portland, ME)
Latino Leadership, Inc. (Orlando, FL)
Little Village Community Development Corporation (Chicago, IL )
Maine Rural Workers Coalition
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA)
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (Boston, MA)
Milwaukee Jewish Council (Milwaukee, WI)
Na Loio - Immigrant Rights and Public Interest Legal Center (Honolulu, HI)
Nebraska Mexican American Commission (Lincoln, NE)
Nevada Hispanic Services, Inc.
New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) (Jackson Heights, NY)
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
Rhode Island Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees
SW Creations Collaborative (Albuquerque, NM)
St. Francis House (Boston, MA)
Shorefront YM-YWHA of Brighton-Manhattan Beach, Inc. (Brooklyn, NY)
Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition (Philadelphia, PA)
Southwest Iowa Latino Resource Center (Red Oak, IA)
United Hispanic-Americans, Inc. (Fort Wayne, IN)
Voces de la Frontera: Workers Center (Milwaukee, WI)
Washington Defender Association's Immigration Project (Seattle, WA)


Cite as AILA Doc. No. 03090541.