Leadership Journal

November 4, 2008

Iraq Naturalization Trip

Acting USCIS Director Scharfen welcomes new citizen during naturalization ceremony in Iraq. (Photo USCIS)
As you read this, I’m in the air over the Mediterranean Sea on my way home from the Middle East. I would like to share with you what I just experienced. In Baghdad, at one of the former Presidential Palaces, I had the distinct honor of naturalizing 186 men and women serving in uniform in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Many of these service members have seen extensive combat and have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. During my tenure with USCIS, I’ve had the opportunity to naturalize soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in far reaching corners of the world from Afghanistan to Djibouti. As a veteran of our military, I know first-hand the sacrifices our nation’s veterans make to secure our freedoms. Since 2004, more than 6,000 service members have become U.S. citizens while stationed overseas – of that number 2,500 naturalized in Iraq. Their service is a constant source of inspiration.

As the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there’s another part of this story that’s just as important to me. Every time I naturalize military service members overseas, USCIS employees have gone before me to conduct interviews. From the deserts of Iraq, to the mountains of Afghanistan, to the middle of the ocean aboard Navy ships, the men and women of USCIS leave the safety of their homes to volunteer to support our troops. As I fly back to the States, I’m thinking not only of the sacrifices of our service members, I’m also thinking about the sacrifices of the USCIS public servants I work with that made these naturalizations possible.

I’m proud of the work my team does to naturalize military service members who are fully eligible for citizenship. However, our goal is to eliminate the need for conducting overseas military naturalization ceremonies by working closely with the Department of Defense to speed up the processing of military naturalization cases. We want to ensure that every eligible service member raises his or her right hand and recites the Oath of Allegiance before overseas deployment. This will benefit these brave men and women as well as their families. It’s the least a grateful nation can do for the men and women of our armed forces who have volunteered to defend America even before they’ve become citizens.

Jonathan “Jock” Scharfen
Acting Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

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October 28, 2008

Common Sense Flu Prevention

As Chief Medical Officer at DHS, I serve as the Department's principal agent for all medical and public health matters. One of my primary responsibilities is maintaining a healthy workforce. We are over 200,000 strong and to protect the nation we must remain strong.

Hand washing kills germs and is a first line defense to protect against the spread of the flu. Photo credit: Emily Roesly

We are entering into the fall season and Autumn brings with it cooler air, changing leaves, and the increased chance of getting the seasonal flu.

While stressing flu prevention methods to our DHS employees who serve on the frontline of America's defense, as a physician, I'm also thinking about the parts of our critical infrastructure that are privately owned and operated. Just as our first responders -- firefighters, police, EMS personnel – must be there for us 24/7, so must our border security personnel must be healthy. Those who run our electrical plants, our telecommunications systems and our grocery stores are also essential.

So please take a moment to review the following flu prevention tips:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water frequently and thoroughly.
  • Get a flu shot.
  • Practice social distancing. Don't move in toward someone who is coughing or sneezing; politely take a step back.
  • Practice proper sneezing and coughing etiquette. Don't cough or sneeze into your hand and then use your hand to use a pen at the bank or open a door or refrigerator. Sneeze and cough into your elbow.

I know how this sounds. It sounds like something our parents told us as children. But think about these tips the next time you sneeze or cough. Look at your own habits. Then look at others. You'll be surprised. This refresher, as silly as it may seem, could just keep the lights burning through another flu season.

Dr. Jon R. Krohmer
Acting Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer


October 24, 2008

Privacy Progress

I am pleased to announce the publication of the fourth DHS Privacy Office Annual Report to Congress, which covers the reporting period from July 2007 – July 2008. It is the office’s fourth annual report and the third issued under my tenure as Chief Privacy Officer.

As we predicted in our 2007 report, this year afforded the Department a “significant opportunity” to expand the presence of Privacy Officers and Privacy Points of Contact (PPOCs) within DHS components. We’ve added Privacy Officers in USCIS, ICE, and E-Verify to name a few components and programs. I am proud of our achievements during the last year, and there are a few more I would like to highlight.

The Office continues to grow to meet increasing responsibilities at the Department, doubling in size from Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 to FY08, increasing from 16 positions to 32, and from a budget of $4.55 million to one of $5.5 million. At the close of the reporting period, the Office was recruiting and hiring additional staff and continues to promote growth in component privacy programs as a critical means of addressing privacy requirements throughout the Department.

We are reviewing over 200 legacy agency Privacy Act Systems of Records Notices (SORN) and retiring or revising them, as necessary. This task supports Secretary Chertoff’s priority goal # 5: Strengthen and Unify DHS Operations and Management by utilizing the already established resources in the PPOC network, and communication with component Privacy Officers, program managers, and system owners to streamline and consolidate legacy SORNs. Additionally, this effort supports the Department’s objective to become "One-DHS" by using the resources of every DHS component to streamline processes and ensure that DHS complies with the Privacy Act. It is critical that the Department continues to uphold public trust in daily operations to secure the homeland while protecting the privacy the public’s personal information.

Additional activities undertaken by my office this year include
  • New Congressional requirements to build the Department privacy processes
  • Increased outreach and collaboration within the Department and with the intelligence community, federal, state, local, and international communities, Congress, and the public
  • Increased responsibilities and authorities of the Chief Privacy Officer and the Department as defined by the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007
  • DHS Privacy Office support of the State and Local Fusion Centers
  • Management of privacy complaints received by the Department
  • The first year of implementing the Privacy Incident Handling Guidance (PIHG), and privacy incident management
  • Expanded focus on technology to protect the homeland
  • Expansion of required and optional privacy training, including targeted workshops and training as needed throughout the Department.
The privacy professionals in my office work hard every day to build privacy protections into the activities of the Department. It has been a pleasure working with these individuals over the past two years. Together, we have strengthened the culture of privacy throughout the Department. I encourage you to read our report.

Hugo Teufel
Chief Privacy Officer

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October 23, 2008

State of Immigration

Imperial Sand Dunes, west of YUMA, AZ. – A stretch of border fence directly south of where Border Patrol Agent Luis Aguilar was murdered by drug traffickers in January 2008.  Agent Aguilar was killed by the driver of a drug load vehicle that drove unhindered into the U.S. across the Imperial Sand Dunes. Photo credit: Ben Vik, Yuma Sector Border Patrol.
Earlier today I delivered the fourth of a series of regular updates regarding the state of immigration in our country. Rather than bombard you with a laundry list of metrics that indicate our progress, let me share just a few concrete examples.

This year, apprehensions of illegal immigrants along our southern border decreased 17 percent; last year, apprehensions decreased 20 percent – a clear indication of reduced crossing attempts. Remittances to Mexico and Latin America are also down for the year, another indicator of successful enforcement. Perhaps even more telling, a recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center found that for the first time in a decade, the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States dropped below the number of those legally entering the country. Pew also estimated that last year, for the first time since WW II, there was no increase in the number of illegal migrants in the U.S. Among the factors credited for this turnaround was "a heightened focus on enforcement of immigration laws."

By all indications – decreased apprehensions, remittances, and statistical data showing more legal than illegal immigrants – we are slowly but surely turning the tide of unchecked illegal immigration that has occurred for decades in our country. We’ve done this by adding more than 370 miles of fence to the border, nearly doubling the size of the Border Patrol, and deploying new technology. Through targeted interior enforcement actions, we've also identified and removed dangerous illegal alien gang members and fugitives in record numbers while sending an unambiguous message to employers who violate the law that we will not turn a blind eye toward illegality.

As part of this, we finalized our no-match regulation, which will give businesses clear guidance to respond to letters they may receive from the Social Security Administration notifying them that an employee's name and Social Security number doesn't match government records. This of course, could be the result of a simple clerical error; or it could indicate that the employee is working illegally – either way, this rule will give employers the guidance they need to respond appropriately and avoid legal ramifications.

My hope is that by re-establishing the government's credibility through these actions, we will not only begin to address one of our nation's greatest challenges, but we will leave a strong enforcement operation in place for the next Homeland Security Secretary to use as leverage to push Congress to comprehensively reform our nation's immigration laws. Until this happens, our country will never fully solve this problem.

Michael Chertoff


October 15, 2008

A Better, Not Harder Citizenship Test

On October 1, 2008, USCIS began administering a new naturalization test. The need for a standardized and meaningful test has been the source of study and discussion for more than a decade. I’m proud of the new test and the commitment we’ve made to giving applicants a meaningful and consistent testing experience across the board.

The purpose of the redesign was twofold: to make sure we have uniform testing experiences nationwide; and to develop a civics test that can effectively assess an applicant’s knowledge of U.S. history and government as the law requires. Naturalization applicants deserve a fair and standardized testing experience no matter where they take the test.

USCIS has made every effort to minimize the impact of this change by allowing one full year for preparation and by working closely with national and local immigrant-serving organizations along the way. Since announcing the test in September 2007, we have trained more than 2,000 educators and service providers, launched a variety of new study materials, and embarked on an unprecedented outreach campaign. You can see the study materials and judge for yourself their quality by going to http://www.uscis.gov/. I believe that the result is an effort all Americans can be proud of and one immigrants need not fear.

I would like to take this opportunity to let applicants know that what we have is a better, not harder test. The format is the same, just standardized across our offices. The civics test has been revamped and improved; and our 2007 pilots showed that those who study for the new test should pass. As for the English test, applicants now know exactly how to prepare through publicly released vocabulary lists. Also, all naturalization applicants now receive a new English and civics study booklet when they are fingerprinted at one of our Application Support Centers.

The new test was designed to serve as a tool to encourage civic learning and attachment to the country. Our pilot studies and research have shown that better content and a consistent format have not made the test more difficult. Through proper preparation and study, eligible candidates will be successful in achieving their dream of becoming a U.S. citizen. We will, however, monitor the results of the new test carefully and make this information public.

I want to commend those of you preparing for U.S. citizenship. The decision to apply is a very personal one. As you take this important step, it is my hope that the naturalization process helps strengthen your attachment to the United States and the democratic ideals that make this nation great. Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.

Jonathan “Jock” Scharfen
Acting Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

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