USCIS Holds Stakeholders’ Meeting at the Miami Field Office

By Patricia Castillo Flanagan*
On May 16, 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) held a stakeholders meeting at the Miami Field Office. In attendance and in representation of USCIS Miami and Caribeean District were the Miami District Director, Linda Swacina; the Kendall Field Office Director, Kristian Parker; the Miami Field Office Director, Yeseira Diaz;  the Hialeah Field Office Director, Enid Stulz; the Oakland Park Field Office Director, Emigdio Martinez; Senior Adjudications Officer, Bruce Marmar; Community Relations Officers, Berta Cassidi and Roketa Mansfield. Michael Biggs (“Biggs”), who is one of the officers in charge of the implementation of the Information Services Modernization Program (hereinafter “Infomode”) was also in attendance via teleconference.  In attendance and in representation of the stakeholders were: members of American Immigration Lawyers Association South Florida (“AILA South Florida”), a representative for the Executive Office for Immigration Review (“EOIR”), Amanda St. Jean, representatives of multiple community and non-profit legal services organizations, and Patricia Castillo Flanagan representing the Florida Bar.
During the meetings, USCIS discussed 28 questions that had been previously submitted by the stakeholders, and provided the attendees with responses to each question in writing. For a list of the responses, please click here.
During the stakeholders meetings questions 1-13 were discussed in further detail by Biggs. The rest of the questions were discussed by the Field Director officers and by District Director Swacina. Biggs explained the new Infomode system, which USCIS Miami began implementing in March. The system requires that USCIS customers schedule infopass appointments via the USCIS Contact Center 1-800 number and replaces the previous system, which allowed customers to make appointments using USCIS’ website. Although appointment were not always immediately available, the process of making an appointment used to take a few minutes. More importantly, before Infomode, a customer with an emergency could just walk in to a USCIS Field Office with evidence of the emergency and obtain an advance parole document or an I-551 stamp.  Most people who had evidence of their emergency would be granted the service requested from USCIS within a matter of hours.
The new Infomode system – far from being more efficient than the old system – leaves a lot to be desired. Since the inception of the new Infomode in South Florida, members of the Florida Bar have complained of mainly four problems: 1) the long waiting time to reach a first tier customer service representative; 2) the even longer waiting time to actually speak with a USCIS officer (second tier representative); 3) how burdensome the system is for people who are in dire need of an I-551 stamps or advance parole; and 4) how it is almost impossible to obtain an appointment to fee in motions.  Unfortunately, Castillo Flanagan has to report that Biggs and the rest of the USCIS representatives expressed no concern with the way Infomode is working. Biggs repeatedly stated that the waiting time is only 20-30 minutes and suggested that if anybody had waited any longer, it is because that person called in a particular busy day at a particular busy time. Such approach highlights a clear disconnect between the way USCIS is trying to portray the effectiveness of  the Infomode system and the reality.
Castillo Flanagan told Biggs that the system was inefficient, particularly in addressing the needs of lawful permanent residents who might need an emergency appointment to obtain an I-551 stamp. For example, before the new system, if a lawful permanent resident learned that her son or daughter was dying in another country, that mother could go to a local office , which were normally open for emergency infopass appointments until about 3:30 in the afternoon and would have have obtained a I-551 on the same date. Conversely, with the new system, that same mother would have to spend about 2-3 hours on hold just to be able to speak to a representative. By then, the possibility to obtain a same day infopass appointment would be very slim, meaning that the mother would have to wait at least 24 more hours to obtain an infopass.
Biggs suggested that the changes were needed to create a consistent system throughout the nation. Castillo Flanagan response by claiming that USCIS cannot expect to create a consistent system for emergency as emergencies come in all kinds of shapes and at odd hours, and the number of USCIS customers needing services could vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another.

It is almost ironic that the word “Modernization” has been added to the new name for the infopass system. Clients went from being able to schedule an infopass appointment from the convenience of their cell phone at odd hours of the night or during the weekend, to having to call USCIS during restricted hours and wait for hundreds of minutes just to be able to speak to someone about possibly obtaining an appointment. Castillo Flanagan sincerely wishes that as these lines are published, the Infomode system is working more efficiently, but she unfortunately doubts that will be the case as the officers who direct and monitor the system are in either complete denial or just do not care about USCIS’ customers’ needs anymore.

*Patricia Castillo Flanagan is a Senior Associate at Rifkin & Fox-Isicoff, P.A., where she practices in the areas of business and family-based immigration. She represents clients before USCIS with regard to non-immigrant visa applications, immigrant worker petitions,family based immigrant visa petitions and applications for naturalization.