Thank you Mr. Chairman. Let me begin by welcoming our witness not only to today’s hearing, but also to his new position as Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. I think it is fair to say that USCIS doesn’t usually get the kind of attention that the rest of the components of DHS do, but its mission is very important.
As we know, USCIS adjudicates a wide array of immigrant and non-immigrant petitions. Families hoping to reunite, businesses searching for talent, persons fleeing persecution and torture, lawful permanent residents applying to become American citizens all go through your agency and it’s critically important to our country that your agency performs well.
It’s also important to point out that USCIS is responsible for all these important activities without any taxpayer money. It’s entirely fee-driven—except for a minor amount, that’s basically used to implement E-Verify – all of the applicants pay for the services they receive.
Now, why is this important to our country? You know, I sometimes mention my Grandfather who came to the United States in the early 20th century –got on a boat, got off the boat – and I’m in Congress today because he had the courage to want the American Dream. And the Director’s own story, of his family fleeing Turkey and Poland to escape anti-Semitism to Cuba, and then fleeing Cuba to escape communism, and here he is today – part of the rich American fabric.
You know, I have always admired immigrants who have enough get-up-and-go to get-up-and-go. They made our country, and we who are here have inherited that rich history and we are now in a position to help shape the future for those who will come after us and it’s incumbent we preserve that legacy.
Now there are many topics that will be discussed today, but I want to touch on the issue, because it has already been mentioned, about the children— the unaccompanied children— who have been apprehended at the southwest border. As we know, these individual are under law placed in the safe keeping of the Department of Health and Human Services, but it is USCIS Asylum Officers who determine whether there is a well-grounded fear of persecution, and in the Director’s written testimony he explains that almost 65% of the asylum applications filed by unaccompanied children that have been adjudicated this fiscal year have been approved.
Now some argue that this somehow means that there is a rubberstamp of these applications, or that the asylum system is vulnerable to fraud and abuse. I look at that statistic and think that these are vulnerable children who are fleeing persecution and extreme violence, and they are thankful that they are receiving the protection to which they are entitled under domestic and international law. I think it’s worth pointing out that an application for asylum isn’t illegal— that’s part of our immigration laws, and it has been since after World War II.
Now children who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected and who obtain a state court order can apply to USCIS for Special Immigrant status. The Director notes that over 3,900 applications for this SIJ status have been received this fiscal year, and those of us who went to South Texas this month know that these applications require a finding by a State Court that these children have been abandoned. A state court makes that determination, and it’s only then that the USCIS will proceed.
Now, children who have been victims of a severe form of human trafficking are eligible for a T visa. And it’s important that we maintain and defend this procedure. As Mr. Conyers has pointed out, we had a nearly unanimous vote in 2008 that put the Congress and America on record saying we will fight human trafficking, and we will make sure the victims of human trafficking will be given safe haven in the United States. Much of this discuss in the Congress and in the country has overlooked the fact that the Wilberforce Act is about human trafficking, slavery, and sex trafficking, and if we are to eliminate the protections in that Act, what we will be saying is that we will once again countenance the victims of trafficking being returned to their traffickers.
I will say this- that we did make an exception for the children from contiguous countries, and we have learned— much to our sorrow— that those exceptions need to be revisited, because the United Nations, at our request, has reviewed our processes and has found that children from contiguous countries who have been trafficked are in fact being returned to their traffickers.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to this hearing and I yield back.