October 13, 1998
Ms. Doris Meissner, Commissioner
Immigration and Naturalization Service
United States Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20536
It was a pleasure seeing you again after Houston. Let me summarize some of the issues we discussed as areas of concern:
- Backlog reduction and adverse impact of emphasis on naturalization on other petitions and applications;
- Need for INS to streamline the adjudications process and creative methods to provide greater efficiency and help reduce backlog, even in absence of additional funding from Congress;
- Your agreement to push the promulgation of a regulation eliminating the need for advanced parole;
- AAO decisions which limit the applicability of INS General Counsel opinions and memoranda of law and contradict long-standing INS practice and procedures, a particularly disturbing trend when the INS is more than two years late in promulgating regulations and the public needs to rely on INS administrative interpretations and its previous policies and practices;
- Mutual concern about the adverse impact of Rogers’ bill to create an Enforcement Bureau without providing for the services component of INS;
- Early input from external stakeholders, such as AILA, in the INS restructuring efforts and your invitation to Jeanne Butterfield to serve on an advisory committee which INS will be creating; and
- Breaking out the cost component of Services within the INS budget to be accountable to internal restructuring cost analysis, the public and Congress.
Upon reflection after our meeting, I am using this letter to elaborate on some of the issues we discussed:
- Some of AAO’s decisions raise serious concerns about the direction of that office and the need to meet with the AAO and the office supervising the AAO to discuss issues of concern, including appropriate administrative remedies;
- We had seven hours of meetings, the day we met with you, with Mr. Pearson, Mr. Yates, and Mr. Virtue and their respective staffs. It is to your credit as a manager that you have such outstanding individuals in key positions. It will be regrettable if Mr. Yates does not continue in the deputy position under Mr. Pearson for the immigration services division, as he commands enormous respect from INS’ outside stakeholders for his demonstrated ability to manage effectively and provide high quality services. Mr. Yates also has shown a rare ability, among INS officials, to think "out-of-box" and come up with creative, practical and effective solutions to management and service problems;
- Inasmuch as we are in favor of the complete separation of INS into services and enforcement, either under a new, independent cabinet level department or in the DOJ under an Associate Attorney General, we are opposed to any Congressional plan to reorganize the INS which does not address the services side of INS;
- We are also outraged by the failure of Congress to approve your request for reprogramming funding and are prepared to work with our business and family coalition allies to free up that money for you to provide needed services; and
- At the same time, we want assurances from you and your senior managers that INS will mitigate the damaging impact its current emphasis on naturalization has on other petitions and applications so that American businesses can get the talent they need and Americans families can reunite, on a timely basis, when backlogged visa numbers are not an issue.
I received a copy of your restructuring work-plan from Jeanne the day after we met. I want to raise two issues with you: 1) stakeholder feedback and 2) AILA participation in your training of your officers.
There is no meaningful provision for customer input and feedback in the restructuring work-plan. The Communication Sub-team and Strategy/Plan are a public relations operation. Even if your paid consultants elicit important information from focus groups for you in the preliminary stages of your restructuring, it is critical that you receive meaningful input during the various stages of the implementation of the restructuring work-plan. Your establishment of an advisory panel for the restructuring of INS and your invitation to Jeanne to serve on this advisory panel is recognition of this need but there is no mention of this panel or its functions in the work-plan.
The importance of our input cannot be overstated. During the planning phase of the direct mail of I-485s, AILA provided INS with a list of our concerns in a letter, dated March 4, 1996, from Steven M. Ladik, as chair of AILA’s INS liaison committee, to T. Alex Aleinikoff, then Executive Associate Commissioner for Programs. If you review this letter, a copy of which is enclosed, you will see that almost every single concern that we expressed eight months prior to the implementation of direct mail became a real, practical problem after the direct mail program was put into effect, in November of 1996, without addressing those concerns.
AILA’s membership is about 5,500. Each of our members represents hundreds of clients, including Fortune 500 companies, families and individuals. Without a doubt, we represent your single largest source of customers. Many of our members have over twenty years of practice in immigration law and can provide you with the mundane as well as the esoteric case examples of how your policies and practices impact American businesses, families and individuals.
The INS work-plan speaks in terms of achieving "best in class" service capabilities similar to those found in successful commercial organizations. To achieve this end, INS must heed the recommendations of its customers, a major theme of Vice President Al Gore's reinvent government initiative. After Steve Ballmer took over as President of Microsoft recently, one of the first demands he put on his senior managers is to get out of the office and visit at least three customers a year.
As an organization, we can convey real world understanding of the practical effects of INS practice and procedures to your new officers and show how attorneys can make a difference in making the adjudication process smoother and easier for the adjudicator. Our legal expertise can also help new adjudicators appreciate how business is done in the real world by our clients, the nuances of the law and its effects. This sharing of information and the exchange of ideas have proven to be very effective and useful in our annual conferences and at service center conferences when INS supervisors are invited to participate. We would like to bring this dialog to your line officers in training.
In conclusion, let me say that we and our clients urge the INS to become more efficient and reasonable in its adjudications process and to ensure that while emphasizing naturalization, it must still maintain realistic time frames for business and family adjudications. AILA is committed to working with INS to help improve the quality of adjudications and services, including the training of its new officers and to help secure funding for INS to deliver services.
I appreciate the time you took to meet with me and Jeanne and look forward to seeing you again next March in DC. Should you be in the Seattle area, please let me know. The Washington State Chapter of AILA and I are eager to be gracious hosts.
Best of luck to you in your restructuring efforts.