Ur Jaddou confirmed as director of US immigration agency

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US President Joe Biden’s nomination to lead United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been confirmed by the Senate. Ur Jaddou becomes the first ever female to occupy the role and ends the years-long cycle of USCIS acting leaders. 


Amid a series of US immigration measures rolled out by the Biden administration in recent months, the nominated leaders for agencies tasked with overseeing parts of the immigration system were still awaiting confirmation of their appointments. 

For several years, the three US immigration agencies overseen by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – USCIS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – have all operated under acting leaders. However, following a 47 – 34 vote in the Senate, USCIS now has a confirmed leader in Jaddou.


String of acting leaders

Under the Trump administration, USCIS was led by a string of acting leaders following the departure of L. Francis Cissna in 2019. The most notable acting leader was US immigration hardliner, Ken Cuccinelli, who found himself in the spotlight as he pushed for controversial Trump policies to be implemented.

Cuccinelli infamously recited a revised version of the iconic poem on the Statue of Liberty to say that ‘only immigrants who can stand on their own two feet are welcome in America’.

USCIS became a key cornerstone for many of Trump’s controversial US immigration policies, including those on asylum, much to the anger of asylum officers. 

Meanwhile, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS found itself on the brink of collapse as US visa and immigration applications dried up, cutting off the agency’s main source of funding.


Jaddou brings fresh perspective

The Biden administration plans to bring a different approach to US immigration policy than the former Trump administration and with Jaddou at the helm, Biden is confident that she will bring a fresh perspective.

DHS Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, said: “Ur has two decades of experience in immigration law, policy, and administration. She will administer our Nation’s immigration system fairly and justly. As the daughter of hard-working immigrants, Ur understands how immigrant families enrich our country and the challenges they face.”

Jaddou has previously served as chief counsel at USCIS under former President, Barack Obama, and led the Biden-Harris DHS transition review team ahead of Biden taking office. She was also a staunch critic of Trump administration policies.

Ahead of the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer posted on Twitter, saying: “The daughter of Mexican and Iraqi immigrants, she would be the first woman to ever lead USCIS.”


US asylum system

Among the tasks Jaddou will be expected to handle is an overhaul of the US asylum system and the future of the Obama-era, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. A federal judge in Texas recently ruled that DACA was unlawful and blocked new applications, which are processed by USCIS.

However, the Biden administration has said that it will appeal the Texas judge’s decision. In the meantime, Mayorkas has said that the DHS is preparing a rule to preserve DACA.

A US immigration blueprint, recently released by the White House, outlines plans to implement what will be a ‘fair’ and ‘orderly’ US asylum process, which will include measures such as authorizing asylum officers to adjudicate asylum claims for those arriving at the US southern border.


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