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U.S. immigration agency replaces Trump-era mission statement that removed "nation of immigrants" label

The federal agency that oversees the legal immigration system on Wednesday replaced a controversial Trump-era mission statement that had removed the "nation of immigrants" label, calling the U.S. "a nation of welcome and possibility" in its new creed.

In an internal message to agency employees, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Ur Jaddou said the new mission statement better reflects the Biden administration's "commitment to an immigration system that is accessible and humane."

"We strive to provide a timely decision, be it yes or no, and with the utmost respect, to every petitioner or person who seeks a benefit from USCIS, be it a U.S. citizen seeking to reunite with a family member, a U.S. business attempting to hire a skilled foreign national, a lawful permanent resident seeking naturalization, or a person who hopes to find a place of refuge from persecution," Jaddou wrote.

Wednesday's change, while symbolic, is part of a broader Biden administration effort to erase remnants of the immigration agenda employed by the Trump administration, which focused on restricting most avenues of legal immigration and used harsher rhetoric toward immigrants. 

Last year, the Biden administration directed immigration agencies to discontinue terms like "illegal aliens" that it deemed to be dehumanizing.

In 2018, an outcry among progressive immigration advocates and others ensued when the Trump administration issued a USCIS mission statement that, among other changes, omitted the "nation of immigrants" passage present in the agency's previous and long-standing mission statement.

The Trump administration statement read, "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."

Then-USCIS Director Francis Cissna said he also removed "customers" from the mission statement in 2018 because he believed the word fostered an "institutional culture" that focused on satisfying people applying for immigration benefits.

"Use of the term leads to the erroneous belief that applicants and petitioners, rather than the American people, are whom we ultimately serve," Cissna said at the time.

The Biden administration replaced the Trump-era mission statement with a shorter, though significantly different one: "USCIS upholds America's promise as a nation of welcome and possibility with fairness, integrity, and respect for all we serve."

In her agency-wide email, Jaddou said the new statement incorporated feedback from 750 employees who responded to a survey. 

"Overwhelmingly, the word you submitted was integrity, and you also cited compassion, service, security, respect, decision, fairness, innovation, welcoming, and opportunity," she told employees.

Michael Knowles, a U.S. asylum officer and president of Local 1924, a union representing USCIS employees in the greater Washington, D.C., area, praised the new mission statement, saying "it renews our sense of purpose, and affirms what our country stands for."

"The way we treat those seeking our protection determines who we are: the American dream is either renewed or betrayed, one case at a time," Knowles added. "When we treat each individual with dignity and respect, we keep faith with the promise."

Employees at USCIS adjudicate applications for green cards, asylum, refugee status, U.S. citizenship, work permits, deportation deferrals and other immigration benefits.

Since President Biden took office, USCIS has instituted numerous policy changes, many of them to reverse limits on legal immigration imposed by the Trump administration. The agency halted a 2019 rule that made it more difficult for low-income immigrants to obtain permanent residency and reversed some asylum restrictions.

But USCIS, which is mainly funded by application fees, continues to struggle with a mounting backlog of petitions that has crippled its ability to review cases in a timely manner, and the agency still largely relies on paper records.

It also has yet to implement several key Biden administration policy proposals, including a plan to revamp the asylum process at the U.S.-Mexico border and a rule to shield the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from legal challenges.

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