Is USCIS Serving the Right Customers?

USCIS recently announced that it will be providing special assistance to “customers” affected by Hurricane Matthew.  Such an action is commendable. The U.S. has a long tradition of aiding those who have survived natural disasters. But why is USCIS referring to the foreign applicants it is charged with vetting as customers?

Government executives have begun applying private sector management techniques in order to improve the performance of their organizations. Private companies sell a product or service to a clearly defined group of purchasers – their customers. The primary aim is to provide good “customer service” in order to keep customers coming back. Therefore it has become trendy to view those who interact with executive agencies as customers.

Does that model work for a government agency? Not really. Being a customer implies that one has entered into an association with a vendor in order to conduct a quid pro quo transaction. If you pay an online bookseller $20 for a book, it becomes obligated to send you the requested volume or refund your money. Generally speaking, retail businesses don’t vet their customers or refuse to sell to them if they don’t meet certain criteria. The only requirement that most vendors impose is that the customer exchange cash for goods or services.

But USCIS isn’t selling anything. It is an agency of the federal government responsible for enforcing administrative law. Foreign nationals seeking permission to enter or remain in the U.S. pay a fee to cover the administrative costs of processing their applications. They are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. But USCIS is never obligated to deliver an approval simply because the applicant paid. The key issue is whether an applicant qualifies under the law, not the exchange of funds.

The notion that USCIS serves foreign customers is the primary driver behind its assembly line mentality and reckless efforts to approve as many immigration applications as quickly as possible. Lawful immigration status is not for sale.

But USCIS should be serving Americans. Its primary function is to protect Americans by enforcing the immigration laws of the United States. If it insists on using strained business metaphors, USCIS should make it clear that its true customer is the American public.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar

    Whole point of article seems like the term customer being used by the USCIS. I live in Maryland our motor vehicle department calls the applicant customers. DL is not for sale obviously. Writer seem to feel superior and outraged that inferior people are being called as if they are “humans”.

  2. avatar
    Barbara Griffith on

    Things may be heading in Trumps favor because Florida has counted its early votes and trump so far has over 500,000
    votes to Hillary’s of a little more that 400,000. I don’t know if that’s all of their early votes or they have more coming in.
    Have to wait and see. That is one of the have to win states because of the electoral votes he needs to get before November. From what Trump has said about having poll watchers in all precincts to watch the voting machines he’s worried about the rigging the election which Hillary’s bunch would do in a minute with Obama’s blessing.

  3. avatar

    Poorly written article. You used the acronym ‘USCIS’ half a dozen times while never identifying what USCIS is an acronym of. I am guessing it stands for United States Customs and Immigration Service or something similar. I shouldn’t have to go do my own research to understand an article like this.

  4. avatar

    Hillary at Debate When Asked If She Was for Open Borders

    I’m for border security…..Trump courts Putin….

    Trump tells her nice pivot to not answer the question to tell another wild allegation….Wikileaks even exposed her open border stand in writing which Chris Wallas revealed…she lies IOWs!

    Are the polls excluding undecided [20% per state approx] and/or is the media using the polls to discourage Trump voters from voting???? Another Brexit scenario? IMO, definitely yes.

  5. avatar

    All this is going to continue under Hillary because she sees foreigners as every bit as “equal” to American citizens. In fact she sees them, a la Animal Farm, as “more equal”. They get to break the law and she falls all over herself to announce that one of her “most important priorities” will be amnesty by executive order.

    She is also going to keep stirring the racial pot and inflame tensions by continuing her war on cops. The murder rate in Chicago has spun out of control and a lot of cops are saying they now drive by someone who they might have investigated before because it ends up with a combative suspect and a hostile crowd. They don’t want their lives ruined because of some edited video played endlessly by the media.

    Not that it’s new. How many people know that there is more to the Rodney King video than those final 15 seconds. He led cops on a high speed chase and repeatedly refused to cooperate. But we’ve had 26 years of only seeing the end of that video, a process repeated over and over.

    Trump said he would “wait” to see the election results before conceding. It’s a fact that Al Gore was 10 mins. from conceding, which would have been game over, when he got a call from his campaign manager saying hold on, and that FL was being moved from Bush to undecided. He only conceded 6 weeks later, with a margin of only 540 votes separating the two.