USCIS Plans Oversight Division

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plans to establish an Organization of Professional Responsibility (OPR) Division to oversee the agency’s 19,000 employees. Officials within USCIS expect the addition of the OPR office to provide a means of investigation around waste, fraud and abuse as well as criminal infiltration or corruption.

Originally reported by The Washington Post in March, initial stories reported the purpose of the OPR as to “more rigorously police its own caseworkers, a move possibly aimed at those who may be too lenient with applicants seeking residency or citizenship.”

While USCIS spokesman Jonathan Withington calls the claims around internal spying as “absolutely false,” he also points out that a number of federal agencies use OPR offices to ensure a minimum exposure to vulnerabilities and to confirm the appropriate execution of responsibilities through proper audits and other controls.

One arm of the OPR office, the Counterintelligence Division, is intended to “reduce vulnerability to penetration by foreign governments and criminals.” Another arm of OPR, an inspections division, is intended to “conduct independent reviews of specific aspects of agency compliance.”

Reportedly, the OPR operating within USCIS will be led by Sarah Kendall, an expert at the agency around fraud detection and national security. She’ll report directly to Francis Cissna, USCIS director and James McCament, deputy director at the agency. USCIS itself operates under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) division of the government.

News around the addition of an OPR Division at USCIS dovetails other changes happening at the agency under the leadership of Cissna.

“Cissna has repeatedly told employees he wants to increase professionalism and integrity at USIS by implementing better management practices,” according to The Post report. “In statements to staffers, he has urged greater transparency and a strict fealty to the law.”

Cissna approach to running USCIS emphasizes the legal process of immigration over the cultural aspect of it. “He triggered a backlash last month for removing language from the agency’s mission statement that described its focus as securing ‘America’s promise as a nation of immigrants.’”

While USCIS leadership looks to embrace tighter controls over processes, at least one immigration attorney sees the move as politicizing the agency, according to The Hill. Greg Siskind, an immigration attorney who’s contributed drafting language in some key immigration legislation, too to Twitter to voice his concerns.

“The question is whether political appointees should be directing resources at investigating career civil servants. This should be overseen by a non-political official at the agency. It’s all being done in the name of rooting out fraud, but it wreaks of political corruption.”

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