AFGE blasted the new acting director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for pressuring asylum officers to misapply immigration laws and politicizing the process.
USCIS asylum officers’ job is to objectively screen and interview asylum seekers and refugees from all over the world in accordance with U.S. laws and international treaties. Asylum seekers must be interviewed by an asylum officer to determine whether they meet the credible fear standard set by Congress before being given an opportunity to have a hearing in the U.S. immigration courts. Those who do not meet the standard are subject to expedited removal. The entire process reflects our country’s commitment to fundamental human rights while enforcing our immigration laws and protecting the safety and security of our country.
But USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli, who has recently been appointed by President Trump but has not been confirmed by the Senate, angered asylum officers when he sent them an email on June 18 criticizing them for approving too many asylum seekers for referral to full hearings in the immigration courts.
“Under our abused immigration system if an alien comes to the United States and claims a fear of return the alien is entitled to a credible fear screening by USCIS and a hearing by an immigration judge,” Cuccinelli wrote to USCIS employees as reported in BuzzFeed and CNN. "Asylum officers, you took an oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States. As a public servant your role as an asylum officer requires faithful application of the law.”
Danielle Spooner, president of the AFGE National CIS Council 119 which represents 13,000 CIS employees nationwide, said Cuccinelli’s email is outrageous.
"To thrust blame for the influx and backlog of asylum seekers on our hard- working asylum officers who proudly serve their country in adjudicating asylum claims is despicable," she said.
Cuccinelli’s action reflects the Trump administration’s pattern of attacking the mission of the agency the administrator is appointed to lead. The EPA administrator, for example, has been working hard to weaken environmental protection rules. The Education Department secretary has been waging war against public schools. The U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary has been attacking scientists and researchers whose studies contradict the administration’s policies on issues like climate change and taxes.
Michael Knowles, president of AFGE Local 1924 representing 2,500 USCIS employees in the D.C. area and overseas — including over 300 employees of the USCIS Asylum and Refugee Programs — said asylum officers are objectively applying the laws and shouldn’t be pressured to do otherwise.
“The dedicated men and women of the USCIS asylum officer corps are faithfully administering U.S. laws as well as our country’s international treaty obligations to ensure that asylum seekers have a fair and expeditious hearing of their claims – and in the meantime to protect them from being returned to the countries they have fled, where their lives and freedom may be at risk,” Knowles said. “These dedicated civil servants are, indeed, upholding the Constitution and the law — and they should never be pressured to do otherwise. These asylum officers deserve the respect and gratitude of the country they so proudly serve.”