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The Senate Has Confirmed The First Woman Of Arab And Mexican Descent To Direct US Citizenship and Immigration Services

The agency is integral to the immigration system, but hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed leader in more than two years.

Last updated on July 30, 2021, at 4:20 p.m. ET

Posted on July 30, 2021, at 3:41 p.m. ET

Graeme Sloan / Sipa USA via AP

Ur Mendoza Jaddou testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on May 26, 2021.

Ur Jaddou will become the first woman and first person of Arab and Mexican descent to be sworn in as director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services after the Senate confirmed her nomination on Friday.

The agency has not had a Senate-confirmed leader in more than two years, even though it's integral to the immigration system: USCIS officers provide work permits, conduct initial asylum screenings that determine whether immigrants can make their case for protection in the US, and issue green cards and naturalizations, among other tasks.

Jaddou, the daughter of Mexican and Iraqi immigrants, was previously the lead attorney at USCIS during the Obama administration.

"It is my honor to congratulate Ur Mendoza Jaddou on her confirmation as Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Ur has two decades of experience in immigration law, policy, and administration,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “I look forward to working closely with her to rebuild and restore trust in our immigration system."

The confirmation of Jaddou comes after years of massive changes that occurred during the Trump administration. USCIS shifted its focus from ways to more efficiently screen and provide immigration benefits to enacting policies to restrict immigrants at the border and elsewhere from gaining access to the US. It also issued proposals to charge for asylum applications, limit access to protections at the US border, and deny permanent residency to immigrants who officials believed were likely to use public benefits.

The selection of acting leaders to run the agency during the latter half of the Trump administration also caused legal issues. In March of 2020, a federal judge in Washington, DC, ruled that Ken Cuccinelli, the former acting USCIS, had not been lawfully appointed to the job.

Under the Biden administration, the agency has undertaken steps to shed that legacy by reverting previous restrictive immigration policies, cutting a previous change to the US citizenship test, and altering the way immigrants are discussed in public and within the department by no longer referring to them as “aliens.”

The public charge rule, or the so-called wealth test to limit green cards to those who were likely to access public benefits, was dropped. A Trump-era proposal that sought to dramatically expand the number of immigrants required to submit biometrics for their applications, while also increasing the personal information the government can demand, such as eye scans, voiceprints, DNA, and photographs for facial recognition, was also scrapped.

USCIS has also faced serious economic problems. Last August, agency officials canceled a planned furlough of more than 13,000 employees, which was set to bring the immigration system to a halt. USCIS officials warned Congress that the agency, which is mostly funded by fees, was running out of money due to a decline in applications during the pandemic and needed an influx of $1.2 billion.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.