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US no longer a nation of immigrants, says body that monitors immigration

Critics see a pattern and fear the administration was threatening the very character of the country by dropping the phrase, ‘nation of immigrants’.

world Updated: Feb 24, 2018 16:27 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US immigration,nation of immigrants,US Citizenship and Immigration Services
Central American immigrants turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents near McAllen, Texas. The girl, 14, from Honduras said that she had picked up the puppy in Reynosa, Mexico during her journey. Thousands of Central American families continue to enter the US, most seeking political asylum from violence in their home countries. The Rio Grande Valley has the highest number of undocumented immigrant crossings and narcotics smuggling of the entire US-Mexico border. (AFP)

America is no longer a “nation of immigrants”, according to a US government agency that oversees immigration and has emerged as Trump administration’s chief tormentor for users of H-1B visas popular with Indian IT companies and professionals.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) dropped the phrase ‘nation of immigrants’ from its new mission statement that critics have said reflected the Trump administration’s general antipathy to immigrants, both legal and illegal, and that ran counter to the very ethos of the country.

The recently released new mission statement read: “US 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.”

Compare that to the previous statement, created in 2005: “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.”

The phrase became popular from a book by that name written by President John F Kennedy that was published posthumously. It first appeared as a phrase as far back as 1874, according to The New York Times, in an editorial published in The Daily State Journal of Alexandria.

That editorial praised a bill passed by the Virginia Senate appropriating $15,000 to encourage European immigration. “We are a nation of immigrants and immigrants’ children,” it had said.

Its exit from the USCIS mission statement was announced by the agency head L Francis Cissna in an internal note to USCIS staff. But he assigned no reasons other than a general one: “I believe this simple, straightforward statement clearly defines the agency's role in our country's lawful immigration system and the commitment we have to the American people.”

To critics, that statement went straight to the heart of Trump administration’s barely concealed antipathy for immigrants. There have been moving stories of deportation of undocumented immigrants — a long-time beloved teacher hustled away in front of his/her students, or a middle-aged man taken away from his wife and children.

Those here legally and hoping to stay on legally — such as Indian H-1B visa holders awaiting their Green Card— have never felt more threatened and uncertain with a new threat or, worse, a decision thrown their way frequently.

As have people from nations targeted by the president’s travel restrictions generically called the “Muslim ban”.

Critics see a pattern and fear the administration was threatening the very character of the country by dropping the phrase. “Unless you can trace your heritage to a Native American group, every single person living in the United States is an immigrant,” said Suhag Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation, an advocacy group, in a statement.

“The removal of language (the phrase — nation of immigrants) recognising this fact runs directly counter to our history and the very ethos of this nation. America is great because it is a nation of immigrants.”

First Published: Feb 24, 2018 16:03 IST