Spotlight: USCIS

Which federal agency has been part of five different departments? The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began in 1891 as the Office of Superintendent of Immigration in the Treasury Department. In 1903, the by-then renamed Bureau of Immigration was transferred to the newly created Department of Commerce and Labor. In 1913, it was placed in the new Department of Labor, and in 1940 (after having been renamed the Immigration and Naturalization Service), it was transferred to the Department of Justice. Finally, on March 1, 2003, USCIS officially assumed responsibility for the immigration service functions of the federal government, when the Homeland Security Act of 2002 broke the INS into three components within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): USCIS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

USCIS’s role is to oversee lawful immigration to the United States. Its mission is to “secure 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.” President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request for USCIS was $3.005 billion, a 2.4% decrease from the services’ FY2012 enacted budget.

The agency’s 18,000 federal employees and contractors work at 250 offices across the world. Their strategic goals include:

  • Strengthening the security and integrity of the immigration system;
  • Providing effective, customer-oriented immigration benefit and information services;
  • Supporting immigrants’ integration into and participation in American civic culture;
  • Promoting flexible and sound immigration policies and programs; and
  • Strengthening the infrastructure supporting the USCIS mission.

Those 250 offices include two headquarters offices in Washington, D.C., at 20 and 111 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., and a Verification Division office at 490 L’Enfant Plaza, S.W. They also include numerous regional, district, and field offices located throughout the United States, as well as International Operations offices in 28 U.S. embassies and consulates in 25 countries. International Operations district offices are located in Bangkok, Mexico City, and Rome.

Additional USCIS offices in the United States include application support centers, which provide fingerprinting and related services; eight asylum offices (in Arlington, Va.; Chicago; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; Newark; New York; and San Francisco), which handle interviews for asylum-related issues; the National Records Center, which receives and processes Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests; plus four National Service/Benefits Centers—in Laguna Niguel, California; Dallas, Texas; Lincoln, Nebraska; and St. Albans, Vermont—that receive and process a large variety of applications and petitions.

Like other agencies with multiple offices throughout the nation, USCIS occupies a lot of leased space. GSA negotiates leases on behalf of USCIS in the United States; one example of a recent transaction is a lease that GSA signed earlier this year for 48,161 usable square feet in a five-story building currently under construction in Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood. A USCIS district office with about 135 employees will occupy the first three floors of the new LEED-Platinum structure when it is completed early next spring.