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Limiting Access – The Cold Chill from USCIS

This is a tough post to write, because I generally like the Atlanta USCIS Field Office. The officers and staff are usually professional, kind, and helpful. But for the past several months, changes have been made that chill the relationship between them and their customers (clients/attorneys).

Yes, there are always things that I’ll complain about – like having to remove my cardigan or blazer, jewelry and shoes to get through security or there never seeming to be an InfoPass appointment available, but it seems like the agency is taking less and less care regarding service. It’s a bit ironic since “service” is part of their name!

At a recent meeting, USCIS leadership informed us of a key change that impacts everyone needing their services. It’s just one more step they’re taking to limit access. several key changes.

Starting immediately, only those with appointments will be granted access to the building at 12:30 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and after 12:00 on Wednesday.

Why is this a problem? Shouldn’t USCIS decide how to allocate their resources and time? It doesn’t seem unreasonable to only see people with appointments, right? Here are a few of the problems…

  • InfoPass appointments are hardly available. I’ve been trying for over a month to schedule a time to go in and talk with an officer about long-pending cases, but there haven’t been any open times. This alone is a key reason why people try to come into USCIS without an appointment – they’ve been unable (sometimes for months) to find the magic time when InfoPass slots open up (I’ve been told to check at 5 am on Wednesdays).
  • The new walk-in hours won’t be posted on their website, nor would it be available to the National Customer Service Center hotline. It’s therefore foreseeable that someone leaves their home in Moultrie at 9 am and arrives at USCIS at 1 pm – only to be told to come back the next morning. Now what? Do they travel the four hours home to take care of children or do they spend money on a hotel?
  • Whenever someone needs to file a motion with the Atlanta Immigration Court, they have to pay the filing fees at USCIS first and then take the motion to the Court (they are about 20 minutes away from each other). Many attorneys have had to do this song and dance on the filing deadline because clients hire us at the last minute – but we do it to protect their appeal rights. By liming attorney access to only the morning…well, I’m just waiting for someone to miss a filing deadline because they got turned away at USCIS at 12:45 on a Thursday. What a miscarriage of justice.

So, how do we fix this? 1) Decide cases.  If USCIS would adjudicate cases, then people wouldn’t need to come into InfoPass to check on their pending cases.  2) If the Georgia Department of Driver Services stopped playing “immigration” and recognized receipts as valid proof of pending status and would grant a license based on those receipts instead of requiring stamps in passports, that would limit the number of people who need in-person service. 3) Show flexibility. Security absolutely will not let anyone through the front doors without an appointment notice in the afternoons – but people don’t get told that loved ones have hours to live only in the afternoon and people don’t get the luxury of taking off time from work whenever it suits USCIS.

Maybe these changes were already in the works a year ago. Maybe the agency felt that these were necessary changes to combat a seemingly unending need for service (I truly hope this is it, but I can’t help but feel that there are better ways at solving this than shutting us out). Or maybe the agency isn’t as interested in serving their customers as much as they used to be.

-Tracie

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