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US Agency Changes ‘Nation of Immigrants’ Mission Statement

L. Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, speaks during an interview in Los Angeles last year.
US Immigration Agency Changes 'Nation of Immigrants' Statement
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The United States government agency that oversees immigration has changed its mission statement. The new version no longer describes the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants.”

The director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, L. Francis Cissna, wrote an email about the change to USCIS employees on Thursday. A letter about the change from Cissna is also published on the agency’s website.

The new mission statement says: “U.S. 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.”

Cissna said he believes “the simple, straightforward statement clearly defines the agency’s role” in carrying out immigration laws and responsibilities to the American people.

The earlier mission statement said the agency “secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants…”

New Mission Statement
New Mission Statement

The phrase “nation of immigrants” has a long history in American political speeches. Most recent presidents from both political parties, including Barack Obama and George W. Bush, have used the phrase to describe America.

It is thought to have been used as far back as the 19th century. It described a country where people of many cultures and nationalities added to what has been long described as a “melting pot.”

The phrase also appears as the title of a book, “A Nation of Immigrants,” by former president John F. Kennedy. The book was published after this death.

Cissna said that he no longer wants the agency to call immigration applicants and petitioners its “customers.” He said he believes the agency is meant to first serve “the American people.”

U.S. Census Bureau information from 2014 shows that there were at least 42 million immigrants, both legal and illegal, in the country. That number has continued to grow.

Many consider the Statue of Liberty a symbol of the country's openness to immigrants and visitors.
Many consider the Statue of Liberty a symbol of the country's openness to immigrants and visitors.

Critics say the mission statement change raises questions about the country’s continued willingness to accept immigrants. They note the importance of America’s promise to those coming to this country.

The new statement for the immigration agency does keep the word “promise” in it.

The inscription on the Statue of Liberty in New York City reads “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The lines do not have the word “immigrant” in them, nor does the poem that the inscription is based on. However, it is clear what the subject of the inscription truly is.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Mario Ritter wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

integrity –n. the quality of being honest and fair

adjudicate –v. to make an official decision about who is right in a dispute or to decide on a petition

role –n. the part played by a person or group in an effort or organization

phrase –n. words that express a single idea but are not usually a complete sentence

applicant –n. someone who formally asks for something (such as a job or admission to a college)​

customer –n. someone who buys goods or services from a business