Jeremey Foster writes:

USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez met with a group of immigration attorneys, non-profit and community leaders in Pittsburgh as part of a “Welcoming Pittsburgh” event earlier this week. Mr. Rodriguez, who once lived in Pittsburgh, captivated attendees with a discussion of the current state of US Immigration law and practice, as well as the challenges facing his Department and the immigrant community in the wake of 5th Circuit decision enjoining the DAPA and DACA extensions of President Obama’s Immigration Executive Action.

Director Rodriguez was realistic about the challenges his agency faces, but was steadfast in his aim for improvement. He devotes significant time to community development and encourages the cooperation of local USCIS offices and community leaders to help immigrants adjust, live, apply for status, and ultimately thrive. Through these efforts, Rodriguez emphasized his Department’s current encouragement that immigrants naturalize. He discussed how soon the processes could be paid by credit card online and that perhaps there may be a fee waiver for individuals at the 150-200% poverty level.

One of the most pressing concerns of the audience was the processing backlog and waiting times. It was somewhat reassuring to many that USCIS is hiring, albeit at a pace to maintain a quality workforce, to keep up with the ramped-up demand.

Although the law provides various routes through which employment can lead to US permanent residence, attendees noted, and Rodriguez acknowledged, that the actual execution and practicality can be lacking. However, as much as immigration attorneys and immigrants may feel at the mercy of USCIS, USCIS feels the same way with regards to the law. Congressional action is required to fix the issues. Unfortunately, new regulations take time and legislation takes even longer.

A perfect example is the holdup of President Obama’s Executive Action in the courts. Although this process is frustrating to many, Director Rodriguez stated his belief that the President’s Executive Action is legal and he was confident that the provisions would eventually be deemed so.  Regardless of the hostility towards immigration reform by some, Rodriguez noted the bipartisan support for reform and that the issue isn’t going away anytime soon. He cited Pittsburgh as a city that has historically welcomed immigrants of all backgrounds and skill levels. He said that he sees Pittsburgh and cities like it as hope for a future where immigrants are welcome and respected for the contribution they provide to this country.

Jeremey Foster is a summer associate in Fox Rothschild’s Pittsburgh office.