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Biden USCIS Nominee Sets Goals for Agency Solvency, Backlogs (1)

May 26, 2021, 4:29 PM; Updated: May 26, 2021, 6:07 PM

Fiscal solvency, reduced backlogs, and an upgrade to 21st century technology top the list of goals President Joe Biden‘s nominee to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ur Jaddou, has for the agency.

In addition, Jaddou will work to ensure that USCIS staff “have the resources, support, and leadership they need to carry out their roles,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee during a nomination hearing Wednesday.

USCIS is the Department of Homeland Security subagency responsible for administering immigration laws and processing services and benefits. Jaddou said in opening remarks that at the heart of a functioning immigration system is an agency that processes applications “fairly, efficiently, and in a humane manner.”

Her nomination to be director comes as the administration works to unwind some of the Trump administration’s more restrictive immigration policies and the USCIS struggles to alleviate a backlog of visa applications. It has not had a Senate-confirmed director since Lee Francis Cissna, who President Donald Trump compelled to resign in 2019.

The committee heard from five other nominees over the 3 1/2-hour session, limiting the questioning of Jaddou, as most of the panel’s time and attention focused on Biden’s nominees to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, David Chipman, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, Anne Milgram.

The hearing concluded without a vote on the nominees.

Experience Applauded

Supporters of Jaddou touted her experience and breadth of knowledge about immigration laws and policies.

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) noted that Jaddou “is uniquely qualified to serve as USCIS director at this critical time” based on her prior experience as the agency’s chief counsel under the Obama administration.

During that time, Padilla said, the California native was able to advise on policies and programs and other “complex legal issues,” calling her understanding of U.S. immigration law and how USCIS functions “second to none.”

After serving as USCIS chief counsel, Jaddou later led the Biden administration’s homeland security transition team. Between those stops, she was the head of DHS Watch at the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice. DHS Watch was created in 2018, in the middle of the Trump administration, “to uphold an immigration system that is competently administered, accountable, and adheres to long-held American values on immigration,” according to its website.

A California native, Jaddou is the daughter of Mexican and Iraqi immigrants, and a graduate of Stanford University and UCLA Law.

Before joining USCIS, she worked on immigration policy for Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Judiciary’s immigration subcommittee, and as deputy assistant secretary for regional, global, and functional affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs, according to a biography provided by the White House upon her nomination.

Prior Policy Concerns

Ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) expressed concerns in his opening statement Wednesday about Jaddou’s involvement in various policies and programs during her prior time at USCIS.

Specifically, Grassley cited parole programs instituted during her time as chief counsel that he said “are not consistent with the language or intent” of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Parole allows an immigrant into the U.S. outside the regular channels for an urgent humanitarian reason or if doing so would create a significant public benefit.

“Should she be confirmed, I have concerns about her willingness to further stretch the limitations of parole authority,” Grassley said.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said that Obama-era parole programs like the international entrepreneur program or the Central American minors program gave the appearance that they made it “easier to circumvent the law as written, and that is problematic.”

In response to questions from the senators, Jaddou said that as USCIS director she would work with the attorneys and the agency to understand any parole proposal and who it could apply to, which would be done on a case-by-case basis.

(Updated with additional reporting from the hearing)

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com; Travis Tritten at ttritten@bgov.com

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