The federal agency tasked with handling immigration affairs in the United States has chucked out a small but notable phrase from its mission statement, according to various media outlets. Jim Acosta, chief White House correspondent for CNN, tweeted that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services removed "nation of immigrants" from its website. The journalist shared a confirmation on Thursday night.
As The Intercept pointed out, there's an unmistakable difference in the present and former text of the USCIS website. Previously USCIS' website said 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.
Now, however, the website no longer mentions "nation of immigrants" and has a noticeably stricter tone with an emphasis on lawfulness, "securing," and "safeguarding" the country. The new text states:
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.
The director of USCIS, L. Francis Cissna, explained the change in the website's language as a move which "clearly defines the agency’s role in our country’s lawful immigration system and the commitment we have to the American people." Cissna made this statement in an agency-wide email that NBC News shared on Thursday night. An officer working for the agency told NBC News that Cissna's change to the website's text reflected his "guiding principles for the agency," which involve a "focus on fairness, lawfulness and efficiency, protecting American workers, and safeguarding the homeland."
That's not the only change that was made to the mission statement, though. Whereas "customers" used to refer to those aspiring to apply for immigration in the United States, now, "customers" is no longer part of the current USCIS vernacular. The reason for this, according to Cissna, is that "customers" gives a misleading sense of commercial transaction to the reader and that is something the present agency does not want to impress upon applicants.
"What we do at USCIS is so important to our nation, so meaningful to the applicants and petitioners, and the nature of the work is often so complicated, that we should never allow our work to be regarded as a mere production line or even described in business or commercial terms," he said.
There's a danger to using "customers" in such a mission statement, the director noted. "Use of the term leads to the erroneous belief that applicants and petitioners, rather than the American people, are whom we ultimately serve," he said. The idea is to clearly define the role of the USCIS and that is, the director concluded, "working for the American people."
While Cissna may have explained his rationale for switching things up at the USCIS, advocates for fair immigration say that the change in the mission statement reflects a deeper and more worrisome shift in the administration's record on allowing non-Americans into the country. On Twitter, one person called the removal a convenient "whitewashing" of American history.
Eleanor Acer, who directs asylum measures for refugees at the Human Rights First agency, criticized the removal of "nation of immigrants" in a statement. Acer said, "Our nation is one built by immigrants — removing this language does nothing to change that fact, it only reveals the insidious racism harbored by those in this administration." Acer also added that by trying to create a difference between American and immigrant, Trump's administration is "turning its back on our nation’s proud history and engaging in dangerous revisionism."