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Immigration agency aims to ‘welcome’ in new mission statement

The update reflects a shift from Trump-era label that removed 'nation of immigrants' description

Petitioners wait to be sworn in at a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives.
Petitioners wait to be sworn in at a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call file photo)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services unveiled a new mission statement Wednesday that calls the U.S. a “nation of welcome,” nearly four years after the Trump administration deleted “nation of immigrants” from the agency’s motto.

The updated mission statement for the agency, which handles requests for visas, citizenship and humanitarian protections, reads: “USCIS upholds America’s promise as a nation of welcome and possibility with fairness, integrity, and respect for all we serve.”

USCIS Director Ur Jaddou said the revised statement aims to reflect the “inclusive character of both our country and this agency.”

“At USCIS, we know that every time we grant an immigration or naturalization benefit, we are fostering the opportunity to help us build a stronger America. And when we offer refuge to those in need of protection we are living up to our nation’s highest ideals,” she said in a statement.

[Under Biden, new immigration tone takes center stage]

According to the Department of Homeland Security agency, the mission statement also incorporates feedback from within its workforce.

Before President Donald Trump took office, the agency declared in its mission statement that it “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.”

Former USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna removed “nation of immigrants” from the statement almost exactly four years ago. In 2018, he revised the statement to say USCIS “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 Biden administration’s revamped version was met with fast praise from immigrant advocates on Wednesday.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a refugee resettlement organization, said the new mission statement is “very clearly rooted in our shared values of welcome and integrity.”

“The language is far more inclusive and intentionally provides a new foundation on which the administration can rebuild the agency,” she said.

Nicole Melaku, executive director of the National Partnership for New Americans, a network of immigrant advocacy groups, said the new mission “affirms USCIS’s role in upholding the values of the United States as a nation of welcome and possibility, and the need for the agency to conduct its work with fairness, integrity, and respect.”

The change is the latest effort by the Biden administration to strike a new tone on immigration following years of discriminatory rhetoric against immigrants.

Trump and his immigration officials frequently used the term “illegal alien” to refer to undocumented immigrants. The former president also reportedly referred to immigrants from Haiti and other African nations as hailing from “****hole countries” and launched his first campaign by calling Mexican citizens “rapists.”

Shortly after Biden took office, the White House spearheaded sweeping immigration legislation, which has yet to gain traction in Congress, that would swap the term “alien” in the federal immigration statute to “noncitizen.” That bill would also replace “spouse” with “permanent partner” to recognize same-sex relationships, in case some immigrants hail from countries that ban gay marriage.

Jaddou previewed the revised mission statement at an immigration conference in October, saying the agency was “thinking about it” and would release a revised version “hopefully soon.”

Jaddou has also pledged to reduce processing times at the backlogged immigration agency, calling the delays an issue “critically important to me and my colleagues.”

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