Citizenship agency removes description of US as 'nation of immigrants'

Phrase removed from mission statement of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of homeland security department

Immigrants become American citizens during a naturalization ceremony.
Immigrants become American citizens during a naturalization ceremony. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

The government agency in charge of granting citizenship to prospective Americans has removed a passage from its mission statement that describes the United States as a nation of immigrants.

The move by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency was first revealed via an email shared with the Intercept, confirmed by the Guardian Thursday.

Whereas the mission statement had previously read:

USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.”

It will now read:

US Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.

USCIS was created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, under the Department of Homeland Security. It processes about 6m applications a year.

In the email, later sent to the Guardian by the agency, USCIS director L Francis Cissna said: “This simple, straightforward statement clearly defines the agency’s role in our country’s lawful immigration system and the commitment we have to the American people.”

The director also noted the removal of the term “customers”, arguing that US citizens are the agency’s customers, not those applying for citizenship.

“All applicants and petitioners should, of course, always be treated with the greatest respect and courtesy, but we can’t forget that we serve the American people,” he wrote.

However, virtually the entire agency budget – between 95% and 99%, according to publicly available budget documents – is funded through user fees paid by the applicants and petitioners.

“With this mission statement we move away from the transactional language of customer and product. Citizenship, residency and the other benefits of our immigration system are granted only after a rigorous evaluation, not merely by the payment of a fee, or submission of an application,” agency officials said.

They added that the new mission statement was effective immediately and was not ordered by Donald Trump or White House officials.