U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director L. Francis Cissna speaks during a press briefing in December at the White House. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The United States is no longer “a nation of immigrants” — at least according to a new mission statement from the government agency that awards citizenship.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, told its employees Thursday that they will now adhere to a new mission statement that eliminates language characterizing the agency’s purpose as securing “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants,” according to an internal memo obtained by The Washington Post. The memo also eliminates a reference to those seeking immigration benefits as “customers.”

A USCIS spokesman confirmed the memo and said the change it is effective immediately.

This is the previous mission statement:

“USCIS 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.”

And this is the new version:

“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 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.”

In his letter to USCIS employees, director L. Francis Cissna explained that the new statement is “simple, straightforward” and “clearly defines the agency’s role.” He provided no explanation for the elimination of “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants.” USIS spokespeople declined to explain the decision.

The American people, through Congress, have entrusted USCIS with the stewardship of our legal immigration programs that allow foreign nationals to visit, work, live, and seek refuge in the United States,” Cissna wrote. “We are also responsible for ensuring that those who naturalize are dedicated to this country, share our values, assimilate into our communities, and understand their responsibility to help preserve our freedom and liberty.”


The Statue of Liberty and the Staten Island Ferry are backdropped by a supermoon on Jan. 31, as seen from Brooklyn. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The word “customers,” as used to describe those applying for immigration benefits, was eliminated because it “promotes an institutional culture that emphasizes the ultimate satisfaction of applicants and petitioners, rather than the correct adjudication of such applications and petitions according to the law,” he said.

“Use of the term leads to the erroneous belief that applicants and petitioners, rather than the American people, are whom we ultimately serve,” Cissna wrote. “All applicants and petitioners should, of course, always be treated with the greatest respect and courtesy, but we can’t forget that we serve the American people.”

Michael Knowles, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924, the union that represents USCIS employees, said “customers” was never a popular term and that USCIS has always prioritized national security and fraud concerns above all else.

The image of America as a nation of immigrants is a narrative — or a myth — that each U.S. administration has treated differently but has been considered a bedrock principle, he said, noting that this change officially erases it from the agency’s mission. “At least everyone talked about that myth, the American promise, the American Dream,” Knowles said.

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