A critical service that members of Congress provide for their constituents is case assistance with the agencies that oversee federal programs like Social Security and immigration. Oftentimes, when constituents get stuck in backlogs or need help, a congressperson’s office can serve as a critical intermediary between an individual and an inefficient government agency.
However, it was recently revealed that the Trump administration would like to make it harder for Congressional offices to help their constituents with their immigration cases.
The Daily Beast reported on a memo distributed in December by a top official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), explaining how the agency will create additional paperwork burdens for those seeking help.
What might seem a simple change in procedure is an underhanded attempt to disempower Congressional offices.
For example, one of the new requirements demands that Congressional offices have constituents sign a brand-new privacy waiver each time they reach out to the immigration agency on their behalf. Congressional staff often reach out to USCIS multiple times on the same case, making it heavily burdensome to require a new privacy waiver be signed each time. Another change would require that a handwritten and notarized signature made under penalty of perjury by the subject of the records instead of a digital signature, creating unnecessary burdens that significantly slow down the process.
This is not the administration’s first attempt to limit Congress’ ability to assist in immigration cases.
In May of last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced they would no longer honor requests by Congressional offices to delay deportations of individuals while a private bill is pending. Private immigration bills are introduced on behalf of an immigrant seeking protection from deportation.
This week, Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio decried the pending deportation of a local family man and business owner, Amer Othman, who he sought to spare from deportation through a private bill to no avail. ICE will deport Othman this week leaving his four American daughters without their dad.
When ICE made the policy shift, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin issued a scathing statement, pointing out the Trump administration’s “willful disregard for the Constitution’s separation of powers in the name of the President’s deportation agenda.” They wrote:
“The executive branch for decades—under both Democratic and Republican administrations—has shielded individuals from deportation while private bills are pending. The process for how private bills would work has only been changed in the past after extensive consultation with members of Congress. The department has now unilaterally changed that process without consulting Congress. This is a mean-spirited action that tramples firm, longstanding practice between two co-equal branches of government.”
Sabotaging Congressional offices’ ability to intervene on behalf of their constituents comes not only at a price to the individuals in need of assistance, but continues to erode relationships between Congress and the Executive Branch.