Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Having fun at work – the St. Louis office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 15, 2012

Inexplicably long delays in deciding applications. Questions about the status of cases going unanswered. Attempts to deprive applicants of legal counsel – some clients were told they didn’t need a lawyer, others were interviewed without their lawyer’s knowledge and still others were told they should appear at hearings without counsel. Interview techniques that are often aggressive, combative and abusive. Office employees often belittle applicants, ask inappropriate questions and refuse to shut their office doors during interviews when others are nearby, depriving applicants of confidentiality. If this description of the St. Louis office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is correct, a day’s work at the office for these apparently sadistic government employees must be fun, albeit, had at other people’s expense. An article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from October documents the allegations:

One person was asked if he was “a good Muslim” after he acknowledged having premarital sex with his wife.

Another was told it was “not very Catholic” for his wife to have had her fallopian tubes tied.

A third was told she was a poor mother because her children had severe food allergies.

Again and again, a complaint said, people seeking the services of federal immigration officers in St. Louis say they’ve confronted adversarial and unprofessional behavior.

More than 170 local lawyers who represent them are now demanding action.

“This is not a case of a few rogue officers. This is systemic management failure, and corrective action is needed,” Kenneth K. Schmitt, chairman of the Missouri/Kansas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, wrote in a recent letter that was hand delivered to the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The federal agency oversees lawful immigration and has 18,000 government employees and contractors working in 250 offices around the world, according to its website. That includes 17 employees and six contractors in the St. Louis field office in the Robert A. Young federal building downtown.

In his letter, Schmitt cited a 10-year period in which the local immigration office has become “isolated and hostile towards the public and those who appear before them.”

He said the office has gained a reputation outside St. Louis for its lack of communication with lawyers, adversarial stance, intolerably long and unexplained delays in deciding applications, and being out of line with national immigration policy.

The local office “operates in a culture of conflict and outright hostility that discourages any degree of professionalism or cooperation between the bar and the field office,” the letter said.

Immigrants who seek the help from the office are not those who are charged with a crime or facing deportation. Instead, they are seeking a legal benefit to which they believe they are entitled such as citizenship, family reunification or asylum… Read more here

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