Sign-On Letter Urges BCIS Not to Contract Out the Immigration Officer Function

September 4, 2003

The Honorable Tom Ridge
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

The Honorable Eduardo Aguirre, Jr.
Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
Department of Homeland Security
425 Eye St. NW
Washington, DC  20536

Dear Messrs. Ridge and Aguirre:

The undersigned organizations strongly urge you not to outsource the BCIS Immigration Information Officer (IIO) function.  To do so would raise serious issues of sufficiency of knowledge, accountability, and efficiency. Clearly, the problem-laden immigration benefits system is badly in need of change. However, outsourcing IIOs will only worsen the situation for individual applicants and ultimately affect the public accountability of BCIS.  Instead, we urge you to review the information function’s internal structure and resource allocation, rather than take the seemingly easy, but ultimately harmful, step of outsourcing this key operation.

Problems with Contractors: Two examples of the current use of outside contractors bode ill for expanding this practice to the IIO function.  First, service centers now use contractors to provide intake of filings.  Contracting out this function has led to filings being rejected because contractors do not understand immigration rules, erroneous entry of data because the contractors do not understand the nature of what is being entered—data that then haunts the case throughout the process, and separation or removal of documents in the mail room because the contractors do not understand the nature of the documents. 

Recent experience with the BCIS’ National Customer Service Center (NCSC) offers another example of the negative impacts of contracting out immigration functions, and the differences that result from using an outside contractor rather than a trained BCIS employee. Until just a few months ago, BCIS-employed IIOs at the service centers handled inquiries about problems encountered with individual cases. In June, all such telephone access was cut off, with all inquirers instructed to call the NCSC’s 800 number.  The contrast has been profound, with resulting problems ranging from the frustrating and time-wasting to truly damaging errors.  Before the June changeover, IIOs readily solved the majority of these problems. Operators who now answer the calls know nothing about the subject of the call and rarely provide assistance.  These operators work from scripts, frequently cannot even identify which script they should be using, and are rarely able to provide meaningful assistance. In fact, they often provide answers that convey a clear misunderstanding of the subject matter with which they are dealing. 
Knowledge:  Because the vast majority of those who file applications with BCIS are unrepresented, most must find their own way through an astonishingly complex system, with their first, and often only, contact being the Information Officer who provides them with the appropriate forms and advice on how to navigate the process.  These officers are trained in immigration, and are supported by others who provide information when needed.  In contrast, in those instances in which INS/BCIS has used contractors, they have received inadequate training or, perhaps more importantly, lack substantive back-up and support.  While direct employees, like everyone, also can make errors, the volume and severity of the errors tend to be lower when the employee is trained and supervised by persons with knowledge in the field.

Knowledge of immigration is important: even determining what form to dispense involves understanding the person’s immigration situation and what is needed to resolve the situation.  This knowledge cannot be taught through lists and scripts:  officers must understand the myriad of situations with which they are daily presented, and have a line of command that can help resolve the situation. 

People’s lives depend on accurate information from government agencies, especially when immigration is involved. Using a contractor for the very function by which this information is disseminated will affect BCIS’ credibility in all reaches of this society.

Accountability: Contracted personnel do not possess this knowledge. Nor, given past practice, will they be held accountable for the quality of their work. Rather, they will be held accountable only for the number of inquiries answered each day. Currently, because service center intake contractors do not report to the service center managers, the BCIS managers are unable to direct the contractors’ day-to-day work, and the contractors’ managers have no immigration background. The result is that contractors are accountable to BCIS management only for production output quotas, and not for work content.  Such a situation is irrational when the very essence of the job is the subject matter of the agency.

This lack of accountability has created enough problems with work that does not require immigration knowledge: opening mail and inputting initial data at the service centers, the work of the current contractors.  By contrast, IIO work involves almost 100% knowledge of immigration. 

Again, we have already seen this problem manifested in the 800 number.  Many callers are abruptly cut short or hung up on before their problem can be addressed, undoubtedly because operators are more concerned with meeting production quotas, the area for which they are held accountable, than with providing accurate information -- an area for which it is nearly impossible to make an outside contractor accountable.

Efficiency And Cost Savings: Past use of outsourcing immigration service functions has not led to efficiencies or cost savings because service centers have had to respond to  contractors’ errors in inputting data by requiring their own employees to check their work and, in many instances, re-do it.  Because employees with the requisite knowledge and accountability have had to perform part of the contractor’s work, a significant proportion of the anticipated savings from using contractors has been lost because direct employees have had to “shadow” that work. Such shadowing often has not reflected in the studies of cost savings from outsourcing, yet reflects a significant agency cost.

Outsourcing is not the solution: Much needs to be done to improve the BCIS’ customer service operation, but the use of outsourcing is plainly not the solution.  As noted above, we urge you to look at the internal structure and resource allocation for the information function.


National Organizations

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
American Friends Service Committee
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Arab American Institute
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
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
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, MI)
Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California
Association of the Jews from the FSU (Milwaukee, WI)
Brazilian Immigrant Center (Allston, MA)
Center for Hispanic Policy & Advocacy, CHisPA (Providence, RI)
Centro Presente, Inc. (Cambridge, MA)
Centro Salvadoreno (Hempstead, NY)
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, Inc. (Miami, FL)
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 Esperanza, Inc. (Georgetown, DE)
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Massachusetts Chapter
Latin American Community Center (Wilmington, DE)
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
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)
Voces de la Frontera: Workers Center (Milwaukee, WI)
Washington Defender Association's Immigration Project (Seattle, WA)


Cite as AILA Doc. No. 03090540.