The director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who eliminated the words “nation of immigrants” from his agency's mission statement Thursday, is the proud son of an immigrant.
At least that was Lee Francis Cissna's position before he got the job leading the government agency tasked with processing legal immigration and citizenship applications to this country.
“The immigrant experience has always been a fundamental part of my family life, and I would be proud to carry that heritage with me,” Cissna, whose mother immigrated to the United States from Peru and whose wife's mother came from the Middle East, told the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing in May.
Cissna said he grew up speaking Spanish at home and speaks it exclusively with his children.
“Our family is literally a product of our nation’s legal immigration system,” he told the panel. “Should I be confirmed, these experiences will undoubtedly illuminate everything I do as USCIS director.”
But on Thursday, Cissna unveiled a new vision for the agency, changing its long-standing mission statement from this:
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.
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.
“I believe this simple, straightforward statement clearly defines the agency’s role in our country’s lawful immigration system and the commitment we have to the American people,” Cissna wrote in an email to USCIS staff, explaining the decision to change the wording.
Cissna was previously director of immigration policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and was a key adviser on immigration to Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. The wording change in the USCIS mission statement suggests a new, more inward-looking approach by an agency that so many aspiring immigrants considered an ally in their own quests to achieve the American Dream.
“It reflects the director’s guiding principles for the agency. This includes a focus on fairness, lawfulness and efficiency, protecting American workers, and safeguarding the homeland,” a USCIS public affairs officer told NBC News on Thursday.
Anti-immigration groups and those in favor of drastically decreasing the flow of new immigrants into the United States praised the change in wording.
“NumbersUSA applauds USCIS for a focused mission statement with clear goals and objectives while reinforcing the need to protect Americans, secure the homeland, and honor our values. Every government agency should remember that it serves Americans and American interests first and foremost. It’s great to see USCIS doing exactly that,” Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, said in a statement sent to The Washington Post.
Each year, as many as 50,000 people from countries around the world are awarded the right to immigrate to the United States in what is known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa program and referred to by most as the green card lottery. An average of 13.3 million people apply annually.
Cissna advocates ending that program as well as immigration based on one's relatives already living in the United States.