U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – the unit within the Department of Homeland Security authorized to provide immigration, naturalization and visa benefits – has just issued its 10-year strategic plan.
In a letter announcing the plan, Eduardo Aguirre, Jr., the USCIS Director, offers a commendable description of how a robust commitment to providing immigration benefits will continue to enrich our nation:
The opportunity for social equality, for economic independence, for a brighter future; these are the beacons that have attracted people throughout history and from every part of the world to become Americans. Their contributions have enriched the fabric of our society, formed the ideal of the American dream and helped to shape a nation built upon the deep foundations of morality, pillared by codes of justice, with a roof of freedom and liberty overhead. With the Strategic Plan as our blueprint, we will ensure that the spirit of every citizen, both native-born and naturalized, can be harnessed to drive the next chapter of our great American story and continue our historic legacy.
Despite the worthy sentiments, the agency’s strategic plan contains disturbing elements. The plan shows clearly that USCIS understands quite well that it is an enforcement agency housed within a department focused more on national security than immigration benefits. USCIS notes in the plan at pages 7-9 that it will employ data-mining techniques to discern fraud, retrieve and maintain information in digital form from every application or petition submitted by or for an individual seeking immigration benefits, and routinely share cases of suspected fraud with other government agencies so that these government agents may pursue their own appointed missions.
Doubtless, every responsible citizen wants USCIS to prevent immigration fraud. The concern, however, is that the plan does not address data privacy considerations. Perhaps, once President George W. Bush appoints the members and executive director of a civil rights and privacy board created under last year’s intelligence restructuring bill, USCIS may be tasked by this board with adopting and announcing protections on data privacy for law-abiding individuals and businesses requesting immigration benefits. See Senators Say Bush Lags On Creating Terror Panel, by Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, May 15, 2005, Section 1, Page 30, available online.
On the other hand, perhaps Director Aguirre will not wait for the President and instead proactively amend the USCIS strategic plan to address civil rights and privacy protection. Stay tuned.