AILA Conference 2021 Day 2 Session 1: Keynote by Alejandro Mayorkas

2021 AILA Conference Day 2: Alejandro Mayorkas Keynote

Categories: Resources
Published: June 15, 2021

Tags: AILA

2021 AILA Conference Keynote with Alejandro Mayorkas:

In this video, Joseph provides his reaction to the AILA Conference Keynote Address delivered by the newly appointed DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Secretary Mayorkas is the first Latino and immigrant confirmed to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security. He has led a distinguished 30-year career as a law enforcement official and a nationally-recognized lawyer in the private sector. Mayorkas served as the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2016, and as the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2009 to 2013 under the Obama Administration and is widely respected in the field.

Learn more by watching the full video.

Full Video Transcript

Hi everyone, this is Joseph, and we are here at 8 a.m. in sunny California.

We just finished watching the keynote address at AILA’s 2021 conference. Now, it was phenomenal. The keynote speaker was Alejandro Mayorkas. He’s the Secretary of Homeland Security, and he’s the seventh one in this cabinet-level position. His boss is President Obama… No, no no… His boss was President Obama before, and now his current boss is President Biden. Maybe there’s actually some truth there, huh? Huh? Biden… Obama… 

[0:30] So, of course, we at AILA were thrilled to have a cabinet-level position speaking to us, talking about the future of immigration policy. But not just because of his position now, but prior to this, before he was Secretary of Homeland Security, before he was Deputy of Homeland Security, he was the Director of USCIS in 2009. So, he knows the ins and outs of this agency, he knew it before the way it is today. So, a couple of years ago, he ran it. He knows all the key lingo.

So, today’s keynote address wasn’t just him talking about the philosophy and ideology of what America should be. We got to directly hear how he wants to change this particular agency. So, in a keynote address like this, the moderator is just as important as the speaker himself, and who better to do this position than AILA’s Executive Director, Ben Johnson. Witty, fair, strong, and handsome. This was a great keynote address. If you guys haven’t had a chance, it’s only an hour long. You gotta watch it. But here are some of the key takeaways. Let’s get to it.

[Tsang Intro Splash]

[1:40] So the biggest breaking news, although it’s not implemented yet, was regarding Requests for Evidence or Notice of Intent to Deny. Alejandro was saying, “I don’t get why, in this day and age, if the adjudicator has a question, a quick question, or they just want one document, why can’t they just pick up the phone, call, or send a quick email, and get this question resolved? Why go through formally a written Request for Evidence, a formal document? Send it to the attorney or the applicant, and then the applicant gets scared half to death, spending three months preparing everything because we’re not sure exactly what the adjudicator wants, prepare all these things and maybe prepare the wrong one, and in the case getting denied. Why can’t we just make things much more efficient, much faster, a quick phone call, adjudicate it, and then get it over with, right?

[2:28] Well, the moderator, Ben Johnson, was saying this is going to be huge. It’s going to be transformative. It’s going to make things a lot faster, and it’s going to be revolutionary. And yes, it will make things better. So, when we heard that, we were geeking out on an email thread with different attorneys because this is going to be a game-changer. But not in the way that you might think, right? So, yes, certain things might be extremely efficient. If you just need a Secretary of State certification. You give a call to the attorney. The attorney sends it back to you. Done. Right? So, some RFE cases, before we get the notice, we prepare within a few hours, we send it out, and the RFE is done. Those will be even faster than it is today. But the biggest impact is going to be on fraud prevention.

If the adjudicating officer suspects a case to be incorrect, gives a call or contacts the attorney, but cannot reach them time and time again, well then that gives a red flag to send actually a field investigator to check out if the applicant is real, right? So we see this with H1B applications. Lots of fraud. Lots of fraud in marriage applications. Lots of fraud in different areas. Right? Typically, historically in the past 10 years, we’ve seen fraud in religious visas, we’ve seen fraud in asylum cases, we see fraud in some L1 cases, EB-5 cases, so if the officer has that power, that is actually going to be very transformative, and overseas law offices, they’re going to have to really struggle on how to do appropriate representation. Because a lot of times, the application gets a Request For Evidence, the attorney, the agents, they come together, prepare the documents, and then send it in, and the client doesn’t know anything about it. Well, now if the officer can directly call the client, how can the attorney better prepare the client, right? So this is going to be transformative if it goes into effect.

[4:19] Now, we know how officers at USCIS and service centers adjudicate these cases. First, the contractors get the case, everything gets scanned in, and then they get it, and then they have to look to review the form for 10 minutes and then look at the application, and they generally have about 20 minutes or 30 minutes to adjudicate a full application, and they’re just doing background checks, name checks, all these things, right? That’s the normal process. But if you add in this additional thing where they get to pick up the phone or email and directly contact having the case sit on their desk, that will actually change the flow of how USCIS officers adjudicate cases, and that will add a layer of responsibility, but it might be very beneficial to the agency. So we are really excited for what USCIS is going to do. I think this is going to be great, and the practice of immigration law will significantly change because no longer are attorneys or notaries or agents just putting a case together, filing it, and when there’s a response, then they scramble with the client to figure it out. Now there’s much more that people need to do.

[5:23] The second biggest news is that in the near future, there’s going to be another significant fee increase at USCIS, and that’s because in the past four years, the agency has completely been gutted. They’re just so short on cash for a lot of different reasons, right? One of them being which, suddenly the agency hired all these personnel to do interviews, to do adjudication when it wasn’t necessary before, and so the payroll cost has just doubled, right? The fastest way to bankrupt an organization is just to double the workforce, and well, that’s what the agency did.

It’s so interesting his position, right, because in 2009, he [Alejandro Mayorkas] was the head of USCIS, he was the director, and so him, he’s like, “I ran the agency so well. We had no—we had a surplus of funds, we didn’t need any money from the federal government,” and think about USCIS, they don’t need money from the federal government, why? Because applicants themselves pay a pretty good filing fee to adjudicate their cases. They pay $500, a thousand dollars, and the officer only spends 10, 20 minutes, reviews the forms, stamps it with an approval, and done and mailing, and those are all contractor work. So, it doesn’t cost that much to adjudicate each application, and they have hundreds of thousands of applications every single day, and all immigrant visas and extensions and non-immigrant visas and work permits. So, all of these filing fees run USCIS, and it was perfectly fine from 2009 to 2013, and then suddenly the agency got gutted because all these personnel were hired to do way more than they were supposed to do. So, double interviews and then things getting rescheduled, and they’re not getting paid more because there’s no new application filing fees. So, all of these reasons, now in 2021, the agency is short on cash, and they have to increase the fee again like for the fourth time.

We have a poster on our wall in our office, an N-400 application fee was only $95, and now it’s $725 with biometrics, right? So, think about how much it’s increased over the years. People have to get a mortgage to pay for all their filing fees and attorney fees just to go through the process. It’s absolutely insane. So, he regrettably is saying that there is going to be a fee increase.

[7:36] Now, the moderator, Ben Johnson was like, “Well, the fees are so expensive already, and we’re not getting anything out of it, right? If these are going to go up, is it gonna be faster? Is it gonna—I mean, are we gonna shorten the backlog?” And the answer is, well, it’s really just trying to stay afloat. And so, that is quite sad. Just seeing it… But one thing he did promise is that if the poorest individuals, right, the people who cannot afford the application fees, maybe there’s going to be a more robust and fair fee waiver.

So, USCIS has been good in granting these fee waivers. We’ve gotten a lot of our clients’ application fees waived because they’re really vulnerable and they really need it, and expanding the scope of that, more people being able to do it and making it easier, that will be great. And so, that’s what we’re looking forward to.

[8:23] The third thing that they discussed was on the detention centers, the immigration courts (EOIR), the millions of cases that’s backlogged. This was a bit contentious but expected and fair and good, and that’s exactly what we want. So, what they discussed, right? Ben Johnson pressed these issues and wanted to get a good answer. Let’s start with the detention centers, right? So, in the past few years, past AILA presidents, they’ve made it their goal to make this their cause, right? And we see this on the media all day, every day, unjust treatments of people in detention centers. There’s no just cost to hold them but because maybe of their status, maybe because of their suspicion, then they get put in detention centers, and these are way worse than some of the not worst jails, but in many jails across the country with a lot of bad treatment, and you don’t get representation, and you get transported all around. And especially this past year with the pandemic, a lot of people got sick and without medical treatment. It’s terrible. It’s absolutely a nightmare.

[9:28] And one of my clients flew from Hong Kong to the U.S., and because of a misunderstanding in language, they got put in a detention center for two days. He was a multi-millionaire doctor but being treated as such, okay? Again, it’s absolutely a nightmare and terrible. Luckily, he didn’t get COVID. Think about the extraordinary people outside of the U.S. flying into the U.S., one misunderstanding, and you can land yourself in some a place that’s worse than a jail, being detained for days and days before you can fly back to your home country. Or people in the U.S. working hard and suddenly because of a mismatch in identity, get pulled in, and you get put in a detention center for months and get transported across the country and getting COVID, and you have no medical representation, family can’t visit you, and there’s no medical treatment. Think about how bad that is. Again, I don’t need to emphasize this because the media has already done its job doing it. And so, Ben Johnson pressed Alejandro like, “What are you going to do about this?”

[10:27] And he said, “Well, we recently closed down two centers that’s absolutely not run correctly and it was inefficient.” And it was like, “Well, two is great start, but what about everything else? Why do we even have this in the first place? Shouldn’t we just get rid of it completely?” And of course, his answer was very PC. He said, “Well, we still need detention center because that’s what the law provides and we need it, and maybe it’s not run the best, and we need to improve it.” And that’s what you expect from a cabinet-level position at Homeland Security, right? So, you can’t say yes, you can’t be in a private sector or you can’t be like an AILA director saying, “Yes, we’re going to abolish it completely,” because that’s just not how government works. But we are very, very hopeful that this system will be improved and justice will prevail. As inefficient as it is right now, there is hope on the horizon.

[11:16] Then, Ben Johnson pressed about the 1.3 million cases backlogged at EOIR and the hundreds of thousands of cases, 500,000-plus cases on USCIS’s docket, and of course, the immigration court backlog. Right? So, all of these things, “What are you gonna do? Because justice delayed is justice denied.” And Alejandro said, “It’s like we’re gonna get to it. Things change is coming, change is coming.” And that reminds us of John Wooden’s quote, right? “If there’s a problem, solve it quick, but don’t hurry.” And that’s sort of the mentality, right? There’s all these problems, but you don’t want to just hurry and rush through and fix everything because sometimes when you do it that way, then more problems will arise. You need to address it quickly and do it smart, but you can’t hurry through the process.

And we’re just so excited because he’s in the position to actually make change, and we’ve seen a lot of the amazing changes that Alejandro did while he was the USCIS director. AILA, we worked with him very, very closely in making all these changes and making things improve and make it more efficient, and we know he’s the right guy to actually implement these good changes.

[12:19] And this is such a great way to kick off the conference. I can’t wait for what the other speakers are preparing for. We have a great schedule ahead. If you like what you’re seeing on this YouTube channel, please smash that like button and subscribe, leave a comment below. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to Alejandro if he will answer or reach out to Ben Johnson. He is in D.C. He’s constantly advocating for immigration change. AILA loves hearing what the public has to say.

So, that’s it. Take care. See you later. Bye.