May 19 deadline for USCIS comments
Every so often, the genealogical community gets a chance to weigh in on records access.
We have that chance, right now, to speak out on access to records that are critically important: records of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
We’ve been invited, along with the public in general, to comment on ways USCIS could change the way it does things “with the goal of reducing burdens on the public, saving costs for both the public and USCIS, increasing navigability, saving time, reducing confusion and frustration, promoting simplification, improving efficiency, and/or removing barriers that unnecessarily impede access to immigration benefits.”1
In our case, the benefit we need is access to USCIS records, and if we want to make a difference when it comes to records access, we need to speak out by Wednesday, May 19.
There’s no way to overstate the genealogical and historical significance of the records USCIS holds. These are things like Naturalization Certificate Files (C-Files), September 27, 1906 to March 31, 1956; Alien Registration Forms (Form AR-2), August 1940 to March 1944; Visa Files, July 1, 1924 to March 31, 1944; Registry Files, March 1929 to March 31, 1944; and A-Files, April 1, 1944 to May 1, 1951. There’s a ton of information about each of these record types on the USCIS Genealogy Program website.2
The issue for us is that the way USCIS operates makes it hard to access these records. It’s expensive, it takes a long time, and even though many of these records could be transferred to the National Archives where access would be much faster and less expensive, that transfer just hasn’t happened. These are all issues we can address with USCIS by way of this new call for comments.
So… what do we need to do to be heard? We follow the usual three-step process we always follow when commenting on an issue like this:
1. We educate ourselves.
Learning about the issues and getting the story on the specific questions being asked by the agency can start on the website of Records, Not Revenue, a “non-partisan project coordinated by an ad hoc group of genealogists, historians, and records access advocates”3 established in response to the outrageous fee hikes USCIS tried to impose last year.4 There, we can read through its guide to issues with the Genealogy Program and its suggestions for comment starters, and think about how these issues impact our research.
And we need to spend some time reviewing the call for comments from USCIS to be able to best tailor what we say in response.
2. We write a careful and thoughtful comment on the issues.
Here, we want to think about any specific problems we’ve encountered with access to the records held by USCIS and specific ways that the Genealogy Program could improve. One of the key points we can make is that records need to be regularly and routinely transferred to the National Archives. Another point is that indexes to the records need to be made public. As much as we can, we need to address the agency’s specific concerns and, where possible, link our comments to relevant agency rules — the Records, Not Revenue guide suggests what rules we might address, and the agency’s call for comments suggests what our focus can be: improving the agency systems to provide better access to our records.
3. Comment by Wednesday, May 19.
We need to post our comments using the specific Regulations.gov comment portal set up for this call for comments. The request for comments makes it clear it won’t take emails, phone calls, letters or anything else. We need to use this specific system. This isn’t all that hard, and it’s the same kind of system we all used to comment about the proposed fee hikes. And the comments need to be in by May 19 — no exceptions.
That’s just five days from now.
Five days for us to be heard.
We need to speak out and speak up.
By Wednesday, May 19.
Let’s make sure we’re heard.
Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Speak out by Wednesday,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 14 May 2019).
- Notice, “Identifying Barriers Across U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Benefits and Services; Request for Public Input,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 86 FR 20398 (updated 26 April 2021). ↩
- See “Historical Records Series Available From the Genealogy Program,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS.gov (https://www.uscis.gov/ : accessed 14 May 2021). ↩
- Records, Not Revenue (https://www.recordsnotrevenue.com/ : accessed 14 May 2021). ↩
- See generally Judy G. Russell, “Records, not revenue,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 21 Nov 2019, “USCIS fees: ouch ouch ouch,” posted 3 Aug 2020, “Reprieve!,” posted 30 Sep 2020, and “Cautious good news,” posted 8 Feb 2021 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 14 May 2021). ↩