On September 14, 2009, USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas announced the opening of the USCIS’ new “Office of Public Engagement” (OPE). In keeping with the Obama Administration’s promise to provide open and transparent government, the OPE will dedicate itself to “open, candid and constructive” collaboration with all groups and individuals with a stake in the Immigration Debate, including public interest organizations and immigration attorneys. The news could not have come sooner, as most commentators expect the Immigration Reform debate to take center stage in the coming months as health-care reform legislation is finalized.
Although USCIS stands for US Citizenship and Immigration Services,” the agency and its predecessor “Immigration and Naturalization Service” have long been criticized for not providing quality, dignified customer service to its many “customers,” which include individuals, corporations and immigration attorneys. Declaring that “Public Service is our Mission,” Director Mayorkas believes the OPE will “more actively and ably elicit the views of those whom (USCIS) serves, and will enable us to better collaborate with them as our agency develops and administers the policies that further our mission.”
The USCIS has previously attempted to improve its reputation in the area of public service, deploying motivational posters and slogans throughout its offices designed to remind USCIS workers of who they work for and the dignity and respect they deserve. Such laudable initiatives have repeatedly fallen short. The creation of the OPE, however, marks the first time that a specific office has been dedicated to community engagement, intergovernmental affairs and protocol. Mayorkas anticipates that engaging immigration stakeholders will help inform and direct the USCIS’ new policy guidelines and the intergovernmental affairs initiative will improve the USCIS’ ability to interface with local, state and Federal officials in other agencies.
Director Mayorkas has already appointed Ms. Mariela Melero, who has more than 20 years experience in the USCIS, to serve as the OPE’s inaugural Director. Mr. Mayorkas praised Ms. Melero for her “deep understanding of USCIS’ mission and importance to the vitality of the US.” Once established, Director Mayorkas plans to hold a series of community stakeholder meetings, not unlike the “townhall meetings” so prevalent of late, to ensure that the immigration debate and dialogue is not confined to Washington D.C. and will extend to every USCIS District Office jurisdiction throughout the US.