USCIS has a new Director. Ur Mendoza Jaddou is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant and an Iraqi immigrant. She started her career on Capitol Hill working for pro-immigrant Congresswoman (and former immigration attorney) Zoe Lofgren, and later served in the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama Administration. Ms. Jaddou spent her Trump-Administration exile as a law professor at American University. Earlier this year, President Biden nominated her to direct USCIS. The Senate confirmed her nomination on July 30, 2021 and she assumed the directorship last week.

In her first news release, Director Jaddou states--

As a proud American and a daughter of immigrants, I am deeply humbled and honored to return to USCIS as director. I look forward to leading a team of dedicated public servants committed to honoring the aspirations of people like my parents and millions of others who are proud to choose this country as their own. USCIS embodies America’s welcoming spirit as a land of opportunity for all and a place where possibilities are realized.

Since January, USCIS has taken immediate steps to reduce barriers to legal immigration, increase accessibility for immigration benefits, and reinvigorate the size and scope of humanitarian relief. As USCIS director, I will work each and every day to ensure our nation’s legal immigration system is managed in a way that honors our heritage as a nation of welcome and as a beacon of hope to the world; reducing unnecessary barriers and supporting our agency’s modernization.

As we look to the future, I am excited for the work ahead and ready to roll up my sleeves to implement Secretary Mayorkas’ goals and the priorities of the Biden-Harris Administration to ensure that the work of USCIS lives up to our nation’s highest values.

I do not know Director Jaddou personally, but I have heard good things about her for several years now, and so her appointment is a cause for optimism. That said, she has her work cut out for her. From my perspective as an asylum attorney, USCIS is a disaster. There are so many problems that need fixing, it is difficult to know where to begin. Luckily, I am here to offer some suggestions. These will focus on asylum and "asylum adjacent" issues. Without further ado, here are ten great ideas for Director Jaddou--

Say Goodbye to LIFO and Hello to FIFO: I've written extensively about the unfair and unpredictable nature of the "Last In, First Out" system for affirmative asylum interviews. Due to LIFO, asylum applicants who filed years ago have still not received an interview and have little hope of ever seeing their cases resolved. Living in these uncertain circumstances, often separated from family members, is psychologically traumatizing. We need a system that is fair and predictable, so applicants and their attorneys know when to expect an interview and have time to prepare in advance. FIFO ("First In, First Out") and the Asylum Office Scheduling Bulletin provides more predictability and more notice to asylum seekers. While we're discussing asylum interviews, we also need rules about expediting asylum cases, so those with the most compelling needs are able to schedule their interviews more quickly.

Reasonable Security Background Checks: Security background checks at the Asylum Office often cause significant delays. Sometimes, these delays stretch on for years, with no real explanation. The worst affected people seem to be men from Muslim countries, but others suffer from these delays as well. We never see such delays in Immigration Court. Why? According to a former Asylum Division Director, it's because there are different systems at the Asylum Office and in court. These systems should be harmonized so that background checks for asylum cases are completed in the same timely manner as background checks in court.

Overhaul the Texas Service Center: The TSC is a nightmare. Processing times are through the roof (for example, the processing time for an I-485 is up to 62.5 months or 5+ years! Contrast that to the processing time for the same form at the NSC, which is "only" 17 months). The TSC also routinely rejects cases for nonsensical or incorrect reasons. They sometimes "disappear" cases, and Valhalla help you if you ever want to add a dependent to an existing asylum case. These problems and others have been ongoing for years. It's time--in fact, long past time--for a top to bottom re-do of the TSC.

Reform the Forms: USCIS forms are inconsistent with each other, confusing, too long, and culturally insensitive. I've written more extensively about this problem, but the short answer is that the forms need a major overhaul. While we're at it, maybe we can make all forms available for online filing.

Asylum Office Websites: Speaking of online, it's high time that the Asylum Offices had functional, informative websites that actually help asylum seekers understand the process and navigate the system. In fact, a few years ago, I offered a re-design of the Asylum Office website. Now would be a terrific time to implement my ideas!

Extend the Validity of the Refugee Travel Document: The RTD is valid for only one year. If you want to renew this document before your current RTD expires, you have to mail in the original (unexpired) RTD. As a result, asylees (and lawful permanent residents who received status through asylum) are left with long periods of time when they are either prevented from traveling or are forced to use their home country passport, which could have negative implications for their status. Why not make the RTD valid for five or 10 years? That would give asylees and refugees the ability to safely travel and return to the United States.

Make Advance Parole Easier: For most applicants with an asylum case pending, the only way to travel outside the U.S. and return is with Advance Parole. Unfortunately, AP is difficult to get because an applicant must show a "humanitarian" need for the travel, and USCIS can be strict on this point. Also, the AP document is valid for unpredictable periods of time. There was a time, during the salad days of the Obama Administration, when USCIS basically accepted any "humanitarian" reason as valid for travel. We should return to that system. Also, the AP document should be issued for a longer period of time and for multiple trips. AP would be less necessary if asylum cases took months. But they take years. And asylum seekers often have very valid and important reasons for travel, even if those reasons do not always meet USCIS's definition of "humanitarian."

Make EADs Easier: Last summer, the Trump Administration made it more difficult for asylum applicants to get their EADs. The change has been partly blocked by a court, but it is still significantly more work for an asylum applicant to get an EAD today, and some applications are being rejected. Also, the processing time for EADs keeps getting longer, and so many people are left with gaps in work eligibility when they try to renew their work permits. USCIS should return to the pre-Trump system for obtaining an EAD while asylum is pending. Also, because processing times are so long, applicants should be permitted to apply earlier for their initial EAD and their renewals. Better yet, USCIS should just send an EAD to every asylum applicant automatically and this EAD should be valid for the duration of the asylum case (dare to dream!).

Automatic Green Cards for Asylees: It should not take years for an asylee to obtain a Green Card. All asylees have undergone extensive investigation and background checks. Also, many asylees have already spent years waiting to obtain asylum. USCIS should be able to quickly process Green Card applications for such people. Even better, USCIS should automatically issue the Green Card after one year with asylum (and an updated background check).

Prioritize Follow-to-Join Asylee Petitions: Many people who receive asylum have been separated from close family members for years. Often times, those family members are living in unsafe conditions. Currently, the I-730 process is very slow (processing times range from 15 to 28 months + additional time for consular processing). These cases should be given a higher priority by USCIS, so asylee families can be re-united as quickly as possible.

So there you have it. If you have additional ideas, please leave them in the comments below. You never know who might see them. And to Director Jaddou, if you are reading this, I am sorry to give you so much homework! And thank you in advance.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: