IT upgrades, increased public interaction coming for Citizenship and Immigration Services

New director wants transparency, public involvement and updated tech

The new director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said today he wants to emphasize public engagement, transparency and information technology modernization of the immigration agency during his term.

To meet those goals, Alejandro Mayorkas said he has created a new Office of Public Engagement and is debuting a new, interactive Web site Sept. 22 that will allow for public feedback on agency policy and proposals. The updated Web site also will allow for greater ease of use and more access to information about pending requests and applications.

USCIS’ involvement with community stakeholders “should be more of a collaborative effort, engaged and interactive,” Mayorkas said. “We want to have the community involved at a level where we can understand what we are doing well -- and what we are doing wrong.”

Another high priority is moving forward on implementing the next stages of the USCIS’ information technology transformation project, which will digitize the agency’s paper-based records systems, Mayorkas said. The project was started in 2005 and is expected to cost more than $500 million.

“We are currently a paper-based agency, and we have to move into the electronic age,” Mayorkas said. “The modernization is already under way. It is of critical importance to the future of this agency, and critically important to me.”

The agency began the transformation project to reduce its backlog of 1.5 million cases. For the first year, little progress was made, but since 2006 the program has been moving forward, according to a recent report from the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general. The IG and USCIS officials disagreed on how much progress has been made.

Mayorkas, a Cuban immigrant, was sworn in Aug. 24 to head the nation’s immigration and naturalization systems. He previously served as U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California and was a partner at the O’Melveny and Myers law firm.

Mayorkas told reporters at an informal news conference today that the agency is taking steps to prepare for Congress’ action on comprehensive immigration reform and for the possible expansion of the E-Verify employment verification program to all employers. But the agency has not yet developed detailed plans or budget estimates.

“We are not assuming anything, but we want to be prepared,” Mayorkas said. For E-Verify, for example, the agency is evaluating the possibility of adding a fingerprint biometric, as suggested by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and others, he said. The evaluations are in the early stages, and no cost estimates or feasibility studies are available at this time, he said.

For an expanded E-Verify and for expansion of legal immigrant applications, USCIS is evaluating possible increased capacity for its databases and for communication mechanisms to handle the increased workload, Mayorkas added. No budget estimates or database need estimates were available.

 

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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