'Nation of immigrants' no longer: USCIS updates mission statement

Kim Hjelmgaard
Indian immigrant Darshan Darshan, 64, takes the oath of allegiance to the United States at a naturalization ceremony on January 22, 2018 in Newark, New Jersey.
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'Nation of immigrants' no longer: USCIS updates mission statement

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

The U.S. is no longer devoted to securing "America's promise as a nation of immigrants."

That's according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) anyway, which changed its official mission statement late Thursday and dropped the language to describe the country.

The federal agency that grants visas and U.S. citizenship now refers to itself as an organization that "administers the nation's lawful immigration system." The new mission statement also eliminates the word "customers" to refer to visa applicants.

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In a letter to employees, L. Francis Cissna, USCIS's director, said the changes were a "straightforward statement (that) clearly defines the agency's role in our country's lawful immigration system and the commitment we have to the American people."

There was no specific explanation for why USCIS dropped the phrase. USCIS directed USA TODAY to Cissna's statement when asked to explain the removal.

"We answer to the American people who look to us to ensure people who are eligible for immigration benefits receive them and those who are not eligible — either because they don't qualify or because they attempt to qualify by fraud — don't receive them, and that those who would do us harm are not granted immigration benefits. Thus, as we begin our work under the banner of our new mission statement, we will also go forward by ending use of the term 'customer' as an agency when referring to applicants or petitioners — a reminder that we are always working for the American people," he said.

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Cissna became the agency's director in October last year, after President Trump's election. Trump has sought to significantly harden decades of U.S. policy on legal and illegal immigration. He plans to admit no more than 45,000 refugees in 2018. His predecessor President Obama had set the 2017 cap at 110,000 admissions, which Trump lowered to 50,000. About 6,700 refugees have been admitted in the U.S. so far this year, according to the latest available State Department data.

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In a statement, Eleanor Acer, director of refugee protection at Washington-based advocacy group Human Rights First, said: "Our nation is one built by immigrants—removing this language does nothing to change that fact ... It is clear from the language and policies put forth by President Trump and his hard-line immigration extremists that they will stop at nothing to demonize and dehumanize immigrants and refugees, who have often fled violence and persecution in search for a better life."

The U.S. has been the top worldwide destination for international migrants since at least 1960, with about one-fifth of the world's migrants living there as of 2017, according to Migration Policy Institute, a think tank. More than 43 million immigrants lived in the U.S. in 2016, accounting for 13.5% of the total U.S. population of 323 million, according to American Community Survey data.

USCIS's new mission statement:

"U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation's lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values."

USCIS's previous mission statement:

"USCIS secures America's promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system."