Federal immigration agency denies report that it's a creating new division to police caseworkers

Federal immigration agency denies report that it's a creating new division to police caseworkers
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The federal agency that gives out visas and residency permits to foreign citizens is denying reports that it is expanding its internal investigations unit.

According to a report by The Washington Post, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reassigned staff to an Organization of Professional Responsibility (OPR) division, designed to have oversight of the agency's employees.

Jonathan Withington, a spokesman for USCIS, denied the claims.

“Contrary to recent news reporting, USCIS is not creating an oversight division to monitor employees perceived as too lenient with adjudicating immigration benefit requests. These reports are absolutely false," said Withington in an email to The Hill.

USCIS is an agency of 26,000 employees within the Department of Homeland Security. It is the agency in charge of reviewing the applications of foreign citizens to live, work or visit the United States.

The Post reported it reviewed internal documents that say one of the divisions within OPR will be an investigations division to “manage the agency’s program that investigates cases involving fraud, waste, abuse or misconduct by USCIS employees.”

Withington said that many federal agencies have OPRs to investigate waste, fraud, abuse and to avoid exploitation by criminals or "foreign elements."

"No final decisions have been made whether to create an Office of Professional Responsibility, nor have any staff reassignments occurred. Such considerations are pre-decisional until they are formally announced," said Withrington.

USCIS Director Francis Cissna, appointed by President TrumpDonald TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE, has pursued an aggressive reform agenda, including changing the agency's core mission.

Cissna directed the change in February, removing the phrase "nation of immigrants" and the description of immigration applicants as the agency's "customers."

The new mission statement focuses on the agency's role in administering the "nation's lawful immigration system" and "protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values."

According to the report, a USCIS official said the moves are viewed internally as a crackdown on agency employees for being too lax in their adjudication process.

Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer who has drafted key immigration legislation, said on Twitter Friday that the establishment of OPR amounts to political oversight of career civil servants.

"The question is whether political appointees should be directing resources at investigating career civil servants. This should be overseen by a non-political official at the agency. It's all being done in the name of rooting out fraud, but it wreaks of political corruption," said Siskind.

But a USCIS employee speaking on background told The Hill that a proposal to create an OPR was penned by career civil service employees, rather than political appointees.
Updated at 5:32 p.m.