Dan Kowalski at LexisNexsis Immigration Community forwards the following item from Think Progress:
“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is set to announce the appointment of a controversial former leader of an anti-immigrant policy center to be its ombudsman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Monday, according to two sources aware of the news.
Between 2005 and 2015, Julie Kirchner worked first as its director of government relations then as executive director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization founded by an alleged white nationalist who advocates for stricter immigration. During her time at FAIR, the organization proposed efforts to end birthright citizenshipand reduce legal immigration levels. She left FAIR in 2015 to become an immigration adviser on then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign.
Immigrant advocates are worried Kirchner’s role as ombudsman will give her direct access to include or exclude stakeholders with an immigration nexus who may shape her formal recommendations based on how the agency should exercise authority over policy implementation.
“The appointment of Kirchner to the position of CIS ombudsman is extremely troubling when you consider the fact that she spent 10 years working for FAIR, a group founded on racist principals that has spent decades demonizing and vilifying immigrants,” Heidi Beirich, the director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project, told ThinkProgress in an email.
USCIS public affairs officer Katie Tichacek told ThinkProgress the agency “does not comment on potential personnel announcements. The two people who confirmed information of Kirchner’s appointment were one current DHS employee and one former DHS employee.
Congress created the role of the USCIS ombudsman under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 as an “impartial and independent perspective” to the agency housed within DHS, according to a DHS agency website. Among tasks like meeting with external stakeholders, ombudsman are responsible for resolving problems with pending immigration cases, sharing feedback on emerging trends in migration patterns, and issuing formal recommendations and proposals to address concerns. They cannot make or change USCIS decisions.
In her 2016 annual report to Congress, former USCIS Ombudsman Maria M. Odom said engaging with external stakeholders was “integral to our full understanding of the issues and their impact on the USCIS customer.”
January Contreras, a former USCIS ombudsman between 2009 and 2012 described her role as a DHS “watchdog.” She now works as the CEO of Arizona Legal Women and Youth’s Services (ALWAYS), which provides pro bono legal services for trafficking survivors and young people.
During her time, Contreras met with a wide variety of people that spanned the immigration spectrum, including human resource and vice presidents looking to expand high-tech visas, undocumented immigrants, and former refugees who pointed out which processes they had trouble with.
“[The role] is someone who is listening outside the DHS bubble,” Contreras told ThinkProgress Friday. “My job, when I was the ombudsman, was to listen to people who were dissatisfied at what was going on at the DHS. Sometimes people would bring complaints, sometimes they would bring ideas, sometimes they were long-simmering issues and sometimes they were rather new issues.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has labeled FAIR as a hate group, pointing to a series of racist memos written by the organization’s founder John Tanton warning of a “Latin onslaught.” In the past, Tanton and other supporters promoted radical population control measures like sterilizing Third World women and making wider use of an abortion pill. FAIR has received $1.5 million from the pro-eugenics organization Pioneer Fund. Tanton also founded NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), two organizations that consulted Trump or senior administration officials during his campaign.
“At the end of the day, the ombudsman is still accountable to Congress to improve services, not restrict services,” Contreras said. “So in fact if there’s an ombudsman in place interested only in restricting immigration I hope that Congress will have some conversations, whether privately or publicly, to make sure they’re doing the job they’re hired to do.”
Wishful thinking on Contreras’s part, I’m afraid. With the GOP firmly in control of the political branches of Government, and Secretary Kelly proving to be a “shill” for Sessions and the restrictionists, I wouldn’t bet on any meaningful oversight of the Ombudsman position.
Quite to the contrary, I expect the Ombudsman to become an extension of the VOICE program for “victims of crime” or, perhaps, a conduit for anonymous “tips” on how to locate individuals who potentially are removable from the U.S.