BuzzFeed News has learned that policy staffers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the immigration agency that handles paperwork like naturalization forms, received an email ordering them to not speak with the transition team of President-elect Joe Biden. In an example of just how far-reaching her decision to kneecap the incoming administration has been, the letter cites General Services Administration (GSA) administrator Emily Murphy’s ongoing refusal to recognize Biden’s victory.
Hamed Aleaziz reports staffers got the email from the USCIS official days after the election had already been called for Biden. “It’s disturbing and disheartening that the agency is not permitting staff to aid the Biden transition team to ensure a smooth transfer,” one USCIS staffer told BuzzFeed News. “These delays could hamper the new administration’s ability to hit the ground running on important issues facing the agency and our country.” But that’s the exact goal.
As Daily Kos’ Kerry Eleveld noted earlier this month, the sign-off is critical in that it releases millions of dollars to transition teams working to set up new governments, along with critical access to federal agencies. But Murphy, a Trump appointee, has refused to sign the letter even as it’s been clear she privately recognizes that he lost. That refusal isn’t only, in just one example, endangering the novel coronavirus pandemic response either.
“For USCIS—and DHS as a whole—the delay could hamper efforts to undo the myriad changes to immigration policy instituted by the Trump administration,” Aleaziz reported. The outgoing administration has implemented hundreds of immigration policies, some of which President-elect Biden has vowed to act on immediately after being sworn in, while others will be a lengthier process. While Biden’s team has likely already been reviewing these policies, Murphy is single-handedly blockading critical access that would likely benefit this process, for no reason than other than placating the sore loser who installed her.
The wall of silence at the administration could also be far-reaching in other ways at the agency. Named in Biden’s transition team is Ur Jaddou, a former USCIS chief counsel who has shined a light on the agency’s abuses and radicalization under impeached president Donald Trump. She’s now rumored to be a top pick to head USCIS, a decision that if pans out could be well-received by immigrant rights advocates. But Murphy’s refusal also blocks Jaddou from critical access and a head start in trying to restore and improve USCIS.
As Daily Kos has noted before, USCIS has become radicalized under the outgoing administration. I mean, just look at who leads it in an acting capacity: Ken Cuccinelli, a racist who once compared immigrants to rodents. I repeat this next thing a lot because it needs to be repeated: A federal judge actually found this anti-immigrant loudmouth was unlawfully installed to his job, yet he’s still refused to leave. He instead spends a lot of time retweeting notorious right-wing trolls from his official government account while shamelessly campaigning for his soon-to-be-former boss on the taxpayer dime.
In one of its final middle fingers to immigrants, USCIS has also rolled out a revised U.S. citizenship test intentionally making it harder for applicants to pass. Of course I wonder: Could Trump pass it? How about Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, who is apparently ignorant of basic shit we learn in elementary school? “On the campaign trail, Tuberville ducked interviews and declined debates, and now we all get to see why,” one recent op-ed in the state said.
The blockading won’t work forever. Murphy and Trump can’t prevent the inevitable. Biden will be president on Jan. 20. It’s also true that every day preventing a smooth transfer of power is another day lost—and it’s happening on purpose. BuzzFeed News reports that the email to USCIS staffers orders that “’until ascertainment, there is to be no contact with the Biden team,’ before adding that ‘if and when’ the GSA recognition of Biden’s victory is formalized, contact will be made.” Just some truly fucking shameful stuff here, folks. January can’t come any faster.