Growing up, one of my favorite shows was Cheers – and they had a beautiful theme song. The chorus was “sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.” And that’s true when you go to your favorite bar or restaurant.
But when you go for your green card or naturalization interview, you may not want everyone to know your name.
What if you’ve fled an abusive spouse and you’re attempting to gain status through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)? Or what if you’re a child who has been declared abused, neglected, or abandoned by the juvenile court and are trying to become a Special Immigrant Juvenile? Or what if you’re seeking asylum? You’re part of a vulnerable population and everything about you, including your name, should be protected.
Currently, every USCIS office handles interviews differently. Some offices call people with numbers, others have buzzers – like the kind you get at restaurants – and others call clients back by their names.
There’s no uniform system, and there’s no perfect system.
Calling someone by a number makes the system seem cold and less personal. Purchasing buzzers can be expensive and they don’t always work. And calling people by their names can also be problematic – not every name is easy to pronounce, but more importantly, yelling someone’s name in an open lobby full of people can put someone at risk.
The immigrant community, even in big cities, can be small.
Take for example a woman who was applying for her green card based on VAWA. She was called back by her name and everything went well at her interview. However, an acquaintance of her ex-husband’s, someone she had never seen before, was in the lobby. The acquaintance told the ex-husband that he had seen her at immigration. Since the ex-husband had often told his ex-wife that she would never get immigration status, he was livid. He went to find her – causing her a lot of trouble.
Because of these privacy concerns, many USCIS offices may soon be changing to calling applicants by numbers. It’s not because they lack customer service, but because they want to protect their customers.
I believe this is the right thing to do. While I would normally want clients to have personalized attention and better customer service by having their names used, by using numbers in the lobby, everyone will be protected and truly better served.