Guzzardi column: Trump shouldn’t give immigration director the axe
Just days before Congress adjourned for its spring recess, Capitol Hill rumors circulated that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Francis Cissna was in the departure lounge, soon to be removed. Since Trump fired Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Secret Service Director Randolph Alles, gossip-crazed Washington expected the unpredictable president would soon wield his axe on Cissna.
But Cissna keeps on task, and is making admirable strides toward defending U.S. tech workers and helping them keep their jobs. Although Cissna has no control over the H-1B 85,000 annual cap that has displaced thousands of Americans and blocked thousands more, especially recent university graduates, from pursuing well-paid tech careers, the employment-based visa, created as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, is his primary target for reform. The H-1B has become a giant fraud perpetrated on the American public and on a shamefully gullible Congress.
Despite Congress’ and Silicon Valley’s intense, well-funded resistance to President Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, under Cissna’s guidance nearly a third of H-1B visa petitions have been denied so far in fiscal year 2019. Disgruntled feedback from employers and immigration lawyers that the coveted visa is becoming harder to obtain is actually a ringing endorsement for Cissna’s effectiveness. In FY 2018, USCIS denied 24 percent of petitions; the agency rejected only 5 percent in FY 2012. USCIS has also issued Requests for Evidence (RFEs) in 60 percent of all petitions submitted. USCIS uses RFEs for a variety of reasons, including when it’s unclear that a position qualifies as a specialty occupation or when the validity of the employer-employee relationship has not been established.
The hardest hit by scrutiny are the worst actors. Consulting companies that send H-1B holders to a third-party site saw significant denial increases. Equally comforting to advocates that defend U.S. tech workers is that trillion-dollar Amazon, and its multi-billion dollar, cheap-labor-addicted soulmates such as IBM, Google and Microsoft, have had their indentured servitude employment flow interrupted. For example, the denial rate for continuing employment petitions went from 1 percent in FY 2015 to 29 percent for FY 2019 at IBM.
As USCIS spokeswoman Jessica Collins said in an email to Bloomberg Law, the agency “has made a series of reforms designed to protect U.S. workers, increase our confidence in the eligibility of those who receive benefits, cut down on frivolous petitions, and improve the integrity and efficiency of the immigration petition process.” Collins reminded USCIS critics that the responsibility is “incumbent upon the petitioner, not the government, to demonstrate that he or she meets the eligibility under the law for a desired immigration benefit.”
Assuming that President Trump was sincere when he signed his 2017 pro-U.S. worker executive order – and serious reservations about his commitment have arisen — then Cissna is the best friend he has. On behalf of America and American workers, Cissna is on record as an enforcer of immigration laws as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act. Moreover, Cissna opposes giving work authorization to H-1B spouses, H-4s. Work authorization to H-4s was given by executive order under the Obama administration, circumventing Congress.
Best of all, Cissna has said he hopes to see the day that Congress would write a one-sentence provision that would prohibit H-1B workers from displacing Americans. Based on his commitment to U.S. workers, Cissna should be allowed to continue to serve.
Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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