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A Message From the CEO: We ARE a “nation of immigrants.” No matter what the official statement is

  March 5, 2018

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A Message from the CEO

Last week, in a quiet but very important way, the U.S. government officially redefined our national identity.

Let me explain. Until last week, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office (the administrative section of the Department of Homeland Security that approves green card and citizenship applications) listed these founding principles as their official mission:

U.S.C.I.S. 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.

That first part is the most significant: “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants.” The idea, of course, is that as a nation comprised of people from other lands, the U.S. will always welcome refugees, asylees, and immigrants.

Our organization and others like IINE were founded on the belief that foreign-born people reinvigorate the country. The flow of immigrants and refugees has varied over the years, from post-WWII Europeans to Southeast Asians during the 1970s and 1980s, to Syrians, Afghans, and Sudanese who have arrived in the last two years. There has always been a steady stream of newcomers who contribute to the nation’s vitality.

Until now. The tacit promise of welcoming people from around the globe to America seems murky and unclear.

The USCIS has officially changed its mission to: “The 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.” 

The shift in focus from serving external “customers” to a more inward, insular and protective stance is very worrying. In the past, USCIS was the conduit by which foreign-born people could achieve their American dream. This new language seems to negate that with every narrow word.

Gone is the aspiration of “granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship” and in its place is “fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans.” It is unfortunate that our leaders could not find the words to both welcome newcomers and protect American safety.

How this new attitude will manifest in policy is still to be determined. Here in New England, the International Institute is renewing our commitment to serve refugees and other early status immigrants in our education, employment and legal services programs. IINE is determined to provide a welcome to newcomers today as we did when we got started 100 years ago. We remain committed to our mission of fulfilling the promise of America as a nation of immigrants. No matter what the current USCIS mission statement is.

As always, I encourage you to learn more about immigration issues locally (MIRA in Massachusetts, NHAIR in NH) and nationally Please continue to engage your civic leaders and elected officials in dialogue about the positive economic and social impact immigrants have on our communities.

Thank you for your continued support of the International Institute and the refugees and immigrants we serve.

Jeff Thielman
President & CEO



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