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No Role Model: A Culture Of Rudeness At Immigration Agencies

– Posted in: Immigration Law, Policy & Politics | Immigration Agencies 101

My client, an immigrant from China, had been summoned to an interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Prudence dictated hiring a certified translator to attend the appointment with us.

My client was only 30 – 40% fluent in English. I know 0% Chinese.

USCIS brought their own translator. The interviewing agent was not pleased that I had hired a private interpreter for my client. He disputed our right to a separate translator.

After a long discussion, during which the USCIS officer consulted with his supervisors, the government acknowledged there were no regulations preventing two translators at the interview.

I asserted, from the outset, that I would only consult with our translator to ensure a full understanding of questions asked and accurate answers by my client.

In other words, our translator was a back-up translator. The USCIS translator would be the primary and official translator for the interview.

It was a long drawn-out affair.

Midway through the meeting, the USCIS interpreter made a startling confession. She told the government agent that our translator was more fluent in both Chinese and English.

She suggested switching roles. She recommended our translator serve as the primary translator and she would be the back-up translator, whose role would be to ensure there were no misunderstandings on USCIS’ part.


The officer became visibly upset. He verbally turned his anger towards my client and insulted him for bringing in a separate translator. I asked him to calm down.

The request fueled his anger even more.

I informed him that, as my client’s green card lawyer, I would unilaterally terminate the interview if he did not change his attitude, tone, and behavior.

He got up from his chair and left the room. He did not say where he was going or when he would return.

About 10 minutes later, he returned with a supervisor. When the supervisor learned that USCIS’ own translator had made the recommendation, he seemed puzzled. He asked if we would agree with keeping the same primary translator.

I told him the issue was never an issue. We had not even talked about switching the roles.

The switch of roles had been a mere recommendation followed by an unprofessional outburst.

The heavy workload and accompanying stress imposed on government employees at various immigration agency offices is no excuse for such behavior. Plain and simple, the USCIS agent’s actions were wrong.

Later that day, the incident reminded me of an article I wrote several years ago about a culture of rudeness displayed by far too many government employees toward immigrants.

I wrote the article, entitled “Dear President Obama: A Simple Suggestion To Reform Immigration Bureaucracy,” shortly after Obama had taken office.

My hopes were high he would reform not only immigration rules, but also government bureaucracy.

The Lingering Lack Of Professionalism And Ongoing Display Of Government Rudeness

Sadly, the article is as relevant today as it was back then – although a greater number of government officers are more humane and polite than their predecessors.

Having been an immigration attorney in Riverside for over two decades, I can attest the absence of professionalism and the presence of overt rudeness within agencies has lessened over the years since I wrote my earlier blog post.

Yet, many traits still remain on display far too persistently within several immigration agencies.

For instance:

  • The USCIS policy not to greet immigrants and their representatives with a handshake.
  • Filing window clerks who seem disturbed when they are asked simple inquiries about procedures or forms.
  • Security guards who treat visitors as if they are enemy terrorist suspects.
  • Detention officers who place callers on hold for 20 minutes before asking the callers about their names or reasons for calling.
  • Immigration judges who act like having tantrums on the bench is a form of judicial discretion.
  • DHS attorneys who act as if every immigrant are undeserving of the minimum amount of human respect.

As I noted several years ago, even though my clients are immigrants from foreign countries, the rude, and often mean-spirited, attitude displayed at many immigration offices is inappropriate.

Government employees are public servants, and role models for the public they serve.

Unfinished Business:
Immigration Bureaucracy Reform

Contrary to rumor, old dogs can learn new tricks.

Likewise, immigration officers can learn new behaviors.

Comprehensive immigration reform is not likely to happen in the near future.

Nonetheless, it is possible to reform the culture of rudeness on display at many immigration bureaucracies.

In fact, better late than never.

By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics