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Where Do the Candidates Stand on USCIS Accountability?


We asked the 2020 presidential candidates where they stood on USCIS accountability:

  1. Do you support reforms to ensure USCIS upholds its service-oriented mission to adjudicate immigration benefits in a fair and timely fashion?
  2. How would you reform USCIS to uphold its mission to adjudicate immigration benefits in a fair and timely fashion?

Here's where the candidates stand:

Opposes USCIS Accountability No Position on USCIS Accountability Supports USCIS Accountability
Donald Trump

Donald Trump (R)

Roque De La Fuente

Roque De La Fuente (R)

Mark Sanford

Mark Sanford (R)

Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh (R)

William Weld

William Weld (R)

Joe Biden

Joe Biden (D)

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg (D)

Steve Bullock

Steve Bullock (D)

John Delaney

John Delaney (D)

Tulsi Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard (D)

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris (D)

Wayne Messam

Wayne Messam (D)

Deval Patrick

Deval Patrick (D)

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson (D)

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang (D)

Michael Bennet

Michael Bennet (D)

Cory Booker

Cory Booker (D)

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg (D)

Julián Castro

Julián Castro (D)

Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar (D)

Beto O'Rourke

Beto O'Rourke (D)

Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan (D)

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders (D)

Joe Sestak

Joe Sestak (D)

Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer (D)

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren (D)


AILA's Position:

For generations, immigration has been an engine of economic growth and social and cultural vibrancy in the United States. In recent years, however, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has experienced crisis-level case processing delays. Unnecessary and inefficient USCIS policies propel these delays and act as barriers to legal immigration. Taken as a whole, these policies are increasingly transforming USCIS from the service-oriented immigration benefits agency that Congress intended into another immigration enforcement arm. These changes at USCIS hurt families, business competitiveness, and American prosperity. To ensure the legal immigration system serves our nation’s interests, USCIS must reverse its inefficient and enforcement-oriented policies and restore its longstanding commitment to customer service. Congress must hold the agency accountable for undermining its own statutory mandate.

Candidates Supporting USCIS Accountability:

These candidates expressly adopted AILA’s recommendation and pledged to ensure USCIS upholds its service-oriented mission to adjudicate immigration benefits in a fair and timely fashion: Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Tim Ryan, Bernie Sanders, Joe Sestak, and Elizabeth Warren. The following candidates also support measures to improve USCIS accountability and case processing times: Michael Bennet, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, and Tom Steyer.

Michael Bennet (D)

Sen. Bennet joined an April 2019 bipartisan Senate letter expressing concern that the closure of USCIS international offices would impact the processing of foreign adoption cases and result in lengthier processing times due to the shift in responsibilities to the State Department.

Cory Booker (D)

In response to the AILA Survey, Sen. Booker stated publicly for the first time that he supports reforms to ensure that USCIS upholds its service-oriented mission to adjudicate immigration benefits in a fair and timely fashion. When asked how he would accomplish this, he responded:

In addition to pursuing his misguided border wall, and attempting to institute a bigoted Muslim Ban, this president has also sought to undermine our legal immigration system. The USCIS is intended to be a service-oriented immigration benefits agency focused on the administration of benefit applications, but the current administration has instead re-directed its efforts to serve as yet another immigration enforcement agency. The consequences have been dire--USCIS case processing times have increased by 46 percent from 2016 to 2018.

As president, I will eliminate the un-American 'public charge' rule, that restricts immigrant families from accessing critical benefits like food stamps or Medicaid--and burdens USCIS by forcing every green card applicant to appear for an in-person interview. We need to restore the purpose and mission statement of the USCIS to be a service-oriented immigration benefits agency.

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Pete Buttigieg (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Mayor Buttigieg stated publicly for the first time that he supports reforms to ensure that USCIS upholds its service-oriented mission to adjudicate immigration benefits in a fair and timely fashion:

Yes. It was disturbing when this administration changed the mission statement of USCIS so that it no longer referred to America’s promise as a nation of immigrants or to applicants as customers. Instead, the agency is focusing on enforcement in a way that is inappropriate and contrary to its mission.

So much of this comes from the tone set at the top. Despite what’s happening right now, USCIS was never meant to be an enforcement agency, and it shouldn’t be. Applicants for immigration benefits in this country pay fees, they study our history and civics, and they traverse a complex immigration system all in order to belong in, and fully contribute to, this country. The least we can do is hold them in the same high regard as they hold our country and promise to treat them fairly and respectfully.

I will do everything in my power to restore the proper sense of mission and priorities to this agency, including by increasing oversight and strengthening the role of the Ombudsman and the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. I will also increase the number of USCIS Immigration and Asylum Officers in order to speed up processes and address the case backlog. Finally, I will restore enforcement priorities for ICE and CBP so that would-be applicants are not deterred from applying for benefits to which they are entitled because of the threat of deportation or other arbitrary immigration enforcement tactics (including the new public charge regulation) that do not serve our public safety needs and instead terrorize immigrant communities.

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Julián Castro (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Mr. Castro stated:

Thanks to unnecessary and inefficient USCIS policies driving delays and acting as barriers to legal immigration, USCIS is now an immigration enforcement arm rather than the service-oriented immigration benefits agency that Congress intended it to be.

I would reverse the President’s illegal asylum ban, disband denaturalization task forces he has constituted, ensure asylum claims and credible fear interviews are adjudicated by trained professionals, and ensure USCIS’ primary duty is to transform aspiring Americans into full members of our society.

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Amy Klobuchar (D)

Sen. Klobuchar spearheaded a bipartisan letter to the administration with Sen. Blunt (R-MO) and several other senators expressing concern that the closure of USCIS international offices would impact the processing of foreign adoption cases and result in lengthier processing times due to the shift in responsibilities to the State Department.

Beto O’Rourke (D)

Mr. O’Rourke has pledged to propose legislation that would “address the green-card backlog and provide opportunities for those awaiting resolution to work and contribute, while immediately recapturing the over 300,000 green cards that have gone unused due to bureaucratic delays to support our high-growth industries of the future.” Through legislation he would also “make naturalization easier for the nearly 9 million immigrants who are currently eligible for citizenship.” Mr. O’Rourke states he will use executive action to “reform the asylum system and reunite families… We must change both the culture and processes for handling asylum claims.” – Campaign website

Tim Ryan (D)

In response to the AILA Survey, Rep. Ryan responded publicly for the first time that he supports reforms to ensure that USCIS upholds its service-orientated mission to adjudicate immigration benefits in a fair and timely fashion. He further responded by stating the following:

Yes. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants. I would restore USCIS to its mission as a benefits, not an enforcement, agency.

On day 1 I would rescind the so-called 'Buy American, Hire American' Executive Order and order DHS to rescind the various USCIS guidance memoranda that have served merely to justify USCIS restrictive adjudications. Within the first 90 days of my administration I would begin the process of repealing all restrictive, indeed in many cases antiimmigrant, regulations promulgated in the past several years, including the so-called Public Charge Rule.

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Bernie Sanders (D)

In response to the AILA Survey, Sen. Sanders stated publicly for the first time that he supports reforms to ensure that USCIS upholds its service-oriented mission to adjudicate immigration benefits in a fair and timely fashion:

Yes. Bernie will reform USCIS and reverse the posture President Trump’s administration has taken to make it slower, more time consuming, and more difficult for immigrants to navigate this country’s immigration system. Bernie will work with Congress to ensure that agencies such as USCIS have the funding and personnel necessary to eliminate the backlog of pending applications and cut wait times. A Bernie Sanders administration will not make it harder, as Trump has, to immigrate to the United States and to navigate the necessary channels and paperwork to access rights and benefits.

In Sen. Sanders’ immigration platform, he states that he will “ensure customs and immigration agencies have the funding and personnel necessary to eliminate the backlog of pending applications and cut wait times for immigration applications.” Sen. Sanders states that he will provide “necessary funding for outreach, integration, and naturalization programs,” “protect and expand family-based visas and cut waiting times and backlogs,” and “overhaul and streamline the visa system to reduce errors and costs and eliminate burdensome fees.”

Joe Sestak (D)

In response to the AILA Survey, Mr. Sestak responded publicly for the first time that he supports reforms to ensure that USCIS upholds its service-oriented mission to adjudicate immigration benefits in a fair and timely fashion. He further responded by stating the following:

USCIS has a challenging job to do, and in recent years it has only gotten more challenging. USCIS needs to more resources to do its job, particularly to increase the speed and efficiency of background checks and processing of asylum applications. We will need to take a comprehensive look at the agency to ensure that the processes and procedures in place are effective.

I am also concerned about the shift at USCIS from a service-oriented agency focused on administering due process to immigrants (processing visas, green cards, citizenship, etc) to an enforcement agency, especially after the 2018 USCIS 'guidance' instructing staff to issue a Notice-to-Appear (NTA) to any unauthorized immigrant whenever any application, petition, or benefit request is denied. An NTA is a charging document issued to begin deportation proceedings. This is particularly troubling because of its impact on 'Dreamers,' who were brought to the United States as children. After many of them went out on a limb to apply for DACA status ('Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals') in the first place, they now face the possibility of imminent deportation if they apply to renew DACA status and are turned down. This new policy makes unauthorized immigrants in general far less likely to attempt to come out of the shadows. Previously, prosecutorial discretion meant that only people who have given cause why they should not be in this country—by committing crimes or otherwise being irresponsible—would face deportation. Instead, this new policy has meant mass deportation of good people who only want to support their families and are contributing to our country. Since we do not have unlimited resources to deport every undocumented person across the country, it is only reasonable that we should focus our deportation efforts on people who cause harm to the country. It is a matter of priorities. I will reform USCIS to once again focus on administering due process for immigrants, and leave enforcement action to ICE and CBP.

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Tom Steyer (D)

On his campaign website, Mr. Steyer notes that “For too long, critical administrative resources have been drained at U.S. Customs {sic} and Immigration Services (USCIS), leading to a stifling bureaucratic backlog of visa, asylum, and permanent residency applications. USCIS needs staff and financial resources to more quickly process those seeking legal entrance, such as asylum, to the United States.”

Elizabeth Warren (D)

In her response to the AILA Survey, Sen. Warren stated that she supports reforms to ensure USCIS upholds its service-oriented mission to adjudicate immigration benefits in a fair and timely fashion. She elaborated on her plan:

I oppose President Trump’s cruel USCIS policies, including his (recently reversed) decision to end medical deferred action and USCIS’ reported plans to create an internal oversight division for the agency’s caseworkers that could discourage caseworkers from using their discretion. I also believe the President’s pick to head to USCIS, who has spent his career peddling anti-immigrant policies, is unfit to lead the agency tasked with fulfilling America’s promise as a nation of immigrants. And this year, after an AILA study revealed significant processing delays at USCIS, I joined my Senate colleagues in writing to USCIS to express concerns about a pattern of nationwide case delays.

But it’s not enough to merely correct the Trump Administration’s abuses. As President, I will also make it easier for those eligible for citizenship to naturalize. Today, over 9 million green card holders are eligible to apply for citizenship—but many have not chosen to naturalize due to unnecessary barriers, including the cost of applications, the complexity of the process, and administrative issues and backlogs. I’ll work to make it possible for everyone who is eligible to naturalize to do so.

The Trump Administration is trying to stack the deck against asylum applicants. That’s not right—our laws and values compel use to help those fleeing violence and oppression. When I’m president, I’ll undo President Trump’s dangerous politics and welcome asylum seekers. I’ll ensure that asylum seekers can safely present themselves at ports of entry for humane, efficient processing, including by ending the metering and 'Remain in Mexico' policies. I’ll restore President Obama’s promise to extend asylum for those fleeing domestic or gang violence and affirm asylum protections for gender identity and sexual orientation-based asylum claims. I’ll streamline processes to eliminate the backlog of individuals waiting for an asylum adjudication.

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Candidates with No Position on USCIS Accountability:

The following candidates have no stated position on USCIS accountability. Republican candidates: Roque De La Fuente, Mark Sanford, Joe Walsh, and Bill Weld. Democratic candidates: Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Steve Bullock, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Wayne Messam, Deval Patrick, Marianne Williamson, and Andrew Yang. Recognizing that the agency is suffering a crisis in leadership that is deeply impacting its core operations, every candidate should present a proposal explaining how they will improve the efficiency and fairness of case adjudications at USCIS, reduce the case processing backlog, and redirect the agency to fulfill its serve-oriented mission.


Candidates Opposing USCIS Accountability:

Donald Trump (R)

During President Trump’s first term, USCIS imposed policies that have resulted in more substantial case processing delays that are affecting American families and businesses as well as those seeking humanitarian relief. Through dramatic changes in policy and practice, USCIS has undermined the legal immigration system and has shifted its focus toward immigration enforcement. USCIS has also terminated existing programs that provide vital services and benefits to immigrants and the American public, sometimes without providing any notice to the public. Taken together, these changes constitute a dramatic departure from the agency’s service-oriented mission to adjudicate applications and petitions for immigration benefits in a fair and efficient manner.