tv Newsmakers CSPAN January 17, 2016 10:00am-10:33am EST
>> next, newsmakers with leon rodriguez, director of u.s. citizenship and immigration services. then, president obama's final state of the union address, followed by the republican response by south carolina governor nikki haley. host: "newsmakers" welcomes to the c-span studios this week leon rodriguez, who is the director of u.s. citizenship and immigration services. thank you for being with us. leon: great to be here. >> let me introduce our to reporters. brian is from the "los angeles markon is fromy the "washington post." brian: your agency was in the news recently because of the
obscure visa type, the k1 fiance visas. the woman involved in the shooting in san bernardino came to the country on a fiancee visa. there were questions raised about how the visa was processed. have you looked at that? have you made any changes to the fiancee visa application process? leon: sure. we have looked at thoroughly. that wealso underscore do and it should take national security seriously across all of these categories. we talk about avoiding is focusing on any one particular category as an area to worry about than any other. we need to be paying attention everywhere. the questions raised by the case, and sometimes cases raise questions that ultimately do not apply to that case, but there are still questions when he to answer. certainly one of the big ones is about how we use social media for screening.
so you have certainly heard discussion. turns out communications were private, so not once we would have been able to see in a case, -- ones we would have seen in that case, but it has been on going for a while now that we have it in the process of building our social media vetting capacity. we have been focusing primarily on refugees, and more specifically on refugees from syria. we are ramping up basically toward using social media vetting across the entire area of activity for us. clearly, there are benefits to using the same kind of vetting regardless of whether it is a fiancee visa, whether it is somebody here on a work visa, whether it is a family visa. there are reasons to be thinking about how we use those tools at least in those cases where there is a flag of concern. that is probably one of the most reported issues that has been brought to the fore in public discussion. brian: do you envision at some
point every visa process will go to sort of social media vetting? that is an issue we are starting to write now. we have 8 million cases every year. it may or may not access, but clearly, there are areas where we would want to be focusing either on a particular orrticular countries particular criteria on who gets included. brian: as of now, you have syrian refugees. what percentage of the syrian refugee applicants are having the social media posts reviewed? leon: i don't know the specific number, but we are moving to more and more applicants and before long we will have a majority of those applicants will have a social media check on their cases. syrians and iraqis. in terms of what we have been
seeing as areas that there is some heavy activity by isil, by other terrorist groups. those in to be areas of particular concern. we will be moving in very short order to across-the-board screening. jerry: i have a follow-up on this question. first of all, thank you for coming. we appreciate it. prominent official recently made a public allegation that the secretary of issued someson order or instruction i believe a year or a year and a half ago saying you are not allowed, dhs officials were not allowed to look through the social media postings of any applicant. my understanding from folks at dhs is that was incorrect in the secretary was not happy with the allegation. can you shed some light on what is true and what is not true? leon: i am not aware that there
was ever such a directive, so when you have been hearing from what your research with everything that i know, certainly in all of the time i have been at dhs, both the secretary and the deputy secretary have been very clear that this is a capacity not only we need to develop, but we need to develop comprehensively and quickly. that is a conversation actually that he and i have pretty prickly about the importance of us moving forward. brian: my understanding is there was not a proactive authorization to use social media in its vetting process. do you not have authorization from the secretary? leon: we do. we do have authorization and in multiple uses. we have been talking about the use for vetting and screening. there are other categories of cases where we might be using social the activity as well, but we have the authorization. we have had it for a while. brian: how long? leon: going back at least as early as last spring, if not earlier than that. we have been acting under the authorization.
i think you heard me talk about pilots. those pilots have been progressively expanding. now again with the syrian and iraqi refugees, we are moving across the board vetting with those populations. jerry: i will take it in a slightly different direction. as you know, uscis has been working for 10 years on a program known as transformation. so your viewers understand, this is an effort to digitize the u.s. immigration system, which is really an important subject because as you are talking about is almost ais almos paper which applicants find a credible frustrating. cis this initiative. a story after research that pointed to the fact that the initiative significantly behind schedule. much more than it is supposed to.
a month or two after i want the story, uscis succeeded in getting one form fully digitized and all light of 95. people i spoke with who use the form say it does not work very well. issuedsecretary johnson a response but nobody quested any facts of the story. what can you say about that? leon: there is a couple of key data points to think about. one is that form you are talking about and the other smaller work streams are present 60% of the overall work volume of uscis. that is a big step forward. , this year, you will see the naturalization form go online as well. that is another massive work stream but also our most complex form. builtt the functionality into that formal be the platform for everything else that comes after it. in this year, we will be up to 30% of the work stream on there.
you will a was on when example here and there of dissatisfaction with everything you do. satisfaction rate with replacement green card form has been any level of 93%. anybody who studies customer satisfaction, that is a high level of satisfaction. in terms of the cost issue you identify, it is a little bit of an apples and oranges issue because now we talk about cost, it is over a 33 year timeline. it includes maintenance costs once it is fully deployed. that extra billion dollars you keep hearing about, a lot of that is the maintenance cost once the system is up and fully up and running. we think we are moving in the right direction. there is no question that there were false start along the way, but we believe -- jerry: you were there for those false starts. this started in the bush administration. that is clear. blame you fori
this but you do speak for the agency. i introduced and reported on a live examples in the story on how this was mismanaged from the start. problems with the contractor. people do not realize how difficult it would be. lots of things. leon: i think the key issue is and ie had a development, know you look into this research. we had a development methodology. given a magnitude and complexity, it was not the one we should have used. now we have a much more nimble development methodology. one of the neat things about that is if you meet the people working on this the moment, those are immigration success story. many of those people are themselves immigrants who have now become software developers, so that is something that excites me when i go up for a meeting with the developers.
the agile development technology which has multiple contractors basically competing against one another has to develop a system that has shown itself from our perspective to be successful. about thelet's talk issues we just raised in the context of conference of immigration reform. reform.ften talk about in january 2017, paul ryan has expressed some success in the past. it could be back on the table in just like that. cis is the backbone of the immigration system. when people file for benefits, all 7 million a year go through your agency. when i did the research on this transformation project, a lot of current former employees and others were highly skeptical the uscis would be able to handle a lot applications that would come
with comprehensive immigration reform. i know it depends on what the actual bill is in the ascension of this question is that a final bill would include some path to legalization. we talk about 11.3 million undocumented immigrants. as you also know, the applications for citizenship and green card are equitably complex. 100 to 150 pages. with the online system may be recovering but still behind original schedule, how would you and with you2017, in fact have to use the current paper-based system which everybody things would be a disaster? leon: we will have as that process unfolds i think unlike some other work surges you have seen, there will actually be time in terms of legislative process unfolds and the time that will be built into whatever legislation there is, but we have learned a lot in recent
years about how to search our work. up. best example is back we had 700,000 people, i was talking about 8 million people a year, that is a pretty significant percentage of our overall workflow searched in a short time and it required form changes, required i.t. changes. we learned as an agency, our culture has changed to be that nimble whenever we do have the eventuality. by the way, i believe we will get there. there will be comprehensive immigration reform. at some point soon. i do believe that from an economic perspective, from a he humanitarian perspective, it is a necessity. this is not a problem we cannot walk away from her much longer -- from for much longer. we learned a lot and i think we will be watching the process as it unfolds we stay ahead of it. i am blessed with a great
workforce who knows how to do exactly that. brian: with different action for childhood arrivals, the working claims from lawmakers that when you have super personnel on processing the applications, the green card applications slow ed down. is that reflected in the data? the wait time for other applications slow down. leon: sure. i would not have interpreted that to documenting. we are busy everywhere else as well. that is an inherent part of the work we do is balancing the workflow. 8 million cases a year. there are 250 offices worldwide. a combination of back office type functions and field office type functions. we are balancing workloads among those offices in order to stay close to processing times. one great example is now with
respect to naturalization, we are exactly at target at a time we are also trying to urge people. is target processing time five. -- five months. we are close to target time on those forms. we are always balancing work. brian: another piece your office has is processing refugee asylum claims with in person interviews. there has been a huge surge in migrants from central america over the last year and a half. jerry broke a story a few weeks ago about administrations deciding to increase the number of raids to have final orders of removal. the advocacy communities have said those people who have been arrested recently, that there is silence in some cases have not been properly hard -- that their
asylum cases have not been properly heard. what does that look like? leon: we have it and we continue to. there is no running away from the fact that we have a clear challenge in the asylum ward. it is a workflow that continues to grow, and it is not reasonable to think it may still grow some yet. we have searched in particular at the border -- surged in particular at the border where we have a time sensitive need. overall, we are continuing to who arer asylum program among the very strong as professionals in our system and a most highly trained animal specifically trained. w-- and the most specifically trained. brian: are you taking step away from other processing programs? from otheray processing programs?
leon: refugees do not pay fees. there are programs that finance those. those are relatively small areas in terms of volume compared to the larger mass of what we do. it is about 25,000 asylum grant a year. last year we did 70,000. our refugee admissions, somewhat screenings.er of it is a relatively small fraction of the overall 8 million cases that we see a year, but still, it is basically the other pairs subsidizing network. host: we are at 10 minutes now. jerry: i think that is a great subject brian just brought up. i will add a follow-up. for about the process evaluating these asylum claims. what a lot of people here and don't understand -- hear and don't understand is people coming from three
countries in central america, particularly salvador, people have a hard time understanding how could someone not have a legitimate claim that they can be persecuted or shot or whatever if we send them back? the distinction is the individual has to show that this specific person has been targeted by a gang or has some credible fear of persecution. it is not enough to save the murder rate is up. can you explain that to people to understand that better? leon: the way to perhaps start is not every risk that somebody may face, not every bad thing that silly may face makes them a thinge ---- not every bad that somebody may face makes them a refugee. there is a specific definition in law that you either have been
persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution based on your race, your religion, your nationality, your political opinion, or real your social grouping. if you don't meet that definition, you may still be facing horrible things, but you don't qualify under our laws. same are incidentally the laws that most of our allies use as well. and in fact that is what is reflected in our initiative in our central american miners program that we do need to do something at least for a lot of these children and young people who are facing harm. we know we need to do something and that is why you heard secretary kerry's announcement about our expansion of the program to increase the activity. jerry: how can someone prove what might be essentially a negative or non-provable?
later, that person is walking down the street in el salvador and they bump into a gang and get shot. there is a gang war going on constantly. what is the burden of proof on people to show this? do they have to introduce evidence showing i was shot at five years ago? i had a gang member come to my house. what are some of the ways they have ave that they well-funded fear of persecution and be granted refugee status? leon: you have given some great examples. the other thing to understand, and this applies to our refugee work as well, we do our own research as well. so a big part of how our officers,our refugee are prepared for this appointment is to be fully set in country conditions. what are the circumstances at a granular level of what is going
on in a particular country? a localized level, particular at the environmental political environments that may provide the foundation for some sort of refugee or asylum claims. it is what the present tells us, but it is also based on what we know about what is going on. it gives is also an ability to test the credibility. jerry: if someone says i was attacked five years ago, you go to the police and tried to pull up a police report? is that possible in countries like this? leon: more then likely it would be something like i was attacked five years ago and we know that this in fact -- let's say there was an insurgency going on in that area. was give a nonspecific example. we know from our research that in a sense that this person was attacked because we know that with certain activity in that area at that time. host: we are at the five-minute mark. brian: i like to talk a little
bit about the effort that the obama administration launched to push more of the refugee and asylum processing out to the foreign countries. the people in central america and honduras and el salvador and guatemala, for example, could come to a place there and apply for refugee status without having to brave the dangers to the united states. do you have people in the field of these countries to help do that screening? leon: one, there is the activity we are doing screening applicants under the central american minors program. one thing we have over the years and we stand ready to do is as other countries are developing a siebel systems, as we have been doing this -- weeloping asylum systems, have been able to provide support as they ramp up capacity. jerry: on another subject, the
of homeland security is known for having the lowest employee morale in the entire federal government. i have written a lot about this. n obscureot a washington issue. there are a lot of people around the world who are not happy other jobs. what are you doing at the uscis to address the issue of morale? is not always great in your agency either as i understand. how are you tackling it? leon: i would not agree it is not great in our agency. we, uscis, actually did quite well. i think the reason we did well is among other things, people come in really loving the mission we do. we mee make hundreds of thousands of new americans every day and we offer refugees and people opportunity and that is
something that really does get our people very excited. it doesn't mean we don't have certain morale issues that we were to address, actually on the whole, if you look at the federal employee viewpoint survey, we actually score quite well on the whole. we are not being complacent. among other things things for example, i'm visiting lots and lots of offices. i engaged one-on-one with a lot of our staff members to see where our opportunities for improvement might be. brian: one of the was criticized programs at uscis is the program that provides visas to investors who are willing to invest $500,000 or $1 million for a program that creates american jobs. lawmakers have been criticized for the program in the past, as for basically
funneling money into projects that don't live up to the expectations. what have you done since coming to the agency to work on some of those concerns? where is it with the program right now? leon: one of my favorite things abouteb5 is that in just everything else we do, there is both bipartisan dislike in the program and bipartisan support of the program. it makes a very unusual among other areas. -- it very unusual among other things. my predecessor deemed to improve the program we're consolidating during my time as director. the most important of those is the actual consolidation of eb5 function here in washington as a very specialized unit with economists, with fraud specialists, white-collar specialists, and also increasing the number of people working on cases, precisely to go
after those issues you identify. we want to admit people under eb5 create jobs and stimulate the economy and will not be bad guys and commit rod. that effort on the whole has been bearing fruit. we really have increased the effectiveness of that unit, increased our ability to monitor the economic benefit created. whether this is really grating jobs, but what about fraud? even able to identify more uses of fraud and abuse? leon: seriously because the have not even been prosecutions in this area. more of the fraud we have been investors are5 themselves the victims of fraud. promoter oreb5 somebody in the united states who is defrauding the perspective immigrants --
prospective immigrants. we do watch for a regional center doing something to promote economic development. we do watch for something that for the investment doing what it is supposed to do, all the mechanisms to avoid front. host: our time is about up. brian: you can use the eb5 program to bring people into the country and it was not enough venting coming in. that is a discussion that occurred as my time as cif director. there have been historical allegations, none of them particularly specific. it is something we watch for. it is a vulnerability that could exist, but it is an issue we want for as part of our vetting. how interview people, how we scrutinize investments is looking for exactly those kinds. jerry: time for one more, right?
host: no, i'm sorry. when you are in front of the chairman, he and his constituents did not have time in your service. should they? leon: they absolutely should. let's take the refugee example because that is one thing people really like to talk about. that is one of the most intense security vetting that is not just for immigrants, but for really any kind of public benefit. the degree to which we've that people,- which we vet suffer my perspective and i am a foreign prosecutor myself so i know what i am looking at, in fact we are doing a good job of protecting public safety and national security. host: thank you for making your first visit to "newsmakers." please come back. leon: thank you. " is back afterrs our conversation with we on rodriguez, who is the director of u.s. citizenship and immigration services.
our reporters brian bennett and jerry markon. i want to start a conversation about the confidence level that american citizens should have based on both of your reporting. should they? jerry: i can talk about that with my story on the only systems. there is a lot of frustration out there with the uscis's service in the immigrant community and immigrant lawyers. the system in 2016 his entirely on paper. it is unlike almost any agency even in the u.s. government. you file something. it gets moved into a lockbox somewhere. you make it a response three months later. you may need to fill out one more sentence. you may need to do that once a month. director rodriguez is a very accomplished director. people speak highly of him.
he seems to be doing as well as he can, but they are sort of behind the eight ball as decisions not made effectively five or 10 years ago. host: from your national security perspective, this has been such a big topic on the gop campaign trail. so much criticism of the numbers of people coming in and how well they are printed. what is your response to the confidence level? brian: this agency is under a lot of scrutiny on a number of fronts. you have both of the refugee vettings, they have to do in person interviews and vetting all the applications and there is concern that islamic state or al qaeda will use the refugee system to smuggle people into the united states. also on the immigration issue, they have been under a lot of scrutiny because of the deferred action for childhood arrivals of program and whether they could
legally issue these benefits to people who were here in the country legally. host: you want mentioned the violence happening in three ,ountries in central america and it seems like the borders are rushed by women and children seeking to escape that. what is going to be different about the process this time from the situation that was faced the last time this happened? jerry: well, i think it is fair to say the administration is more prepared this time than they were the last time when the previous search occurred in the summer of 2014. they did not see it coming at all. there were not a lot of warning signs. showsime, my reporting they have increased their messaging campaign in central america. don't come, you will begin by wolves or killed by smugglers. it goes on and on. that brian mentioned
that is going on now is part of -- determines effort deferments effort, but there seems to be another think coming. brian: they are taking a different path, which is this two-pronged approach. they are trying to send a message that if you are here illegally, you will sent home with was not the message sent to you in a half ago. they are trying to have it both ways they are trying to increase money for refugee vetting and they will open up more offices in central america to vet people with legitimate claims. that sends a mixed message to people that we want you to come if you have freedom of asylum claims but if you come it legally -- program that
president obama's executive actions that are so controversial, they are able to shield 5 million immigrants from deportation. these are people that have been here that have not been held up in the court. we will not do for you, but then we will deport these people. brian: the expansion of the current document. host: our time is up. maybe a one-word answer to this. the director expects confidence that our immigration policy would change. immigration reform. you both feel the same way looking at the current political climate? brian: ioc and opening, no. jerry: at the moment, no. eventually, yes. host: thank you. >> in just about 15 minutes,