The U.S. should no longer be seen as a nation of immigrants, at least from the perspective of US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The federal agency charged with processing immigrant visas, known as USCIS, removed the characteristic phrase from its mission statement today.
The welcoming tone of the previous statement has been replaced by a law-and-order approach. This is the old statement:
“USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.”
And the new one:
“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.”
USCIS said the new statement is meant to convey “a focus on fairness, lawfulness and efficiency, protecting American workers, and safeguarding the homeland.”
The change in wording, which was originally reported by The Intercept, goes against a longstanding tradition by American elected officials and politicians of referring to the U.S. as a nation of immigrants.
Presidents Harry Truman and Gerald Ford used it in their speeches. So did Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, and of course, Barack Obama, who included it in dozens of public statements. Even Donald Trump mentioned the concept in comments defending his executive order banning travelers from several majority-Muslim countries.
The new mission statement is part of a broader White House effort to embed the administration’s hawkish attitude toward immigrants into federal bureaucracy. Though Trump has been unable to convince Congress to turn his anti-immigrant agenda into law, since he took office federal agencies have been making administrative changes to reflect it. In another instance, USCIS replaced the word “integration” with “assimilation” in the name of a program that provides funding to teach immigrants English and civics, now the Citizenship and Assimilation Grant Program.
Though seemingly cosmetic, these type of wording changes serve as a tool to rally support among Trump’s base. The word “assimilation” has come to imply that immigrants have the burden of adapting to the U.S., something that resonates with immigration hardliners who feel threatened by the country’s growing diversity. Terms such as “securing the homeland” and “honoring our values” reinforce the “us vs. them” rhetoric that has worked for Trump in the past.
The phrase ”nation of immigrants” has been a pet peeve of anti-immigration advocates such as former White House senior adviser Steve Bannon. “We’re a nation of citizens; we’re not a nation of immigrants,” he’s said.
Bannon may be out of favor now, but the Trump administration appears to be carrying out his vision.