This link will discuss Infopass appointments and why such appointments are generally a waste of your time and a waste of government resources. Infopass is a system whereby an individual seeking information about a pending case can make an appointment to sit with an Immigration Services Officer (“ISO”) and ask questions over a wide array of subjects. This can include a request for forms, instructions on what forms to complete and how to complete the forms, questions about the status of a pending case or advice about the steps to be followed to obtain immigration benefits.
The system itself is relatively easy. Anyone seeking the obtain an Infopass appointment can go to Infopass.USCIS.gov and can schedule an appointment through a relatively straight forward process of answering a number of prompts offered in over a dozen languages. If done correctly, the applicant for an appointment will be offered the times and dates which are available and once an appointment is chosen the applicant is given an appointment letter which is then used to obtain admission into the local CIS Field Office.
When the applicant arrives at the appointment, the applicant passes through a security check and is then welcomed into the building with an initial check-in procedure that leads to a ticket being issued with a number. When the applicant’s number is called an ISO welcomes the individual and the appointment begins.
The Infopass appointment is an opportunity where we actually have face-to-face contact with an ISO who we hope can answer the questions that we have about our case. The problem is that the officers who handle the Infopass appointments are generally not the officers who actually adjudicate the cases for which an inquiry is made. If the system were one where we were provided an opportunity to speak directly with the officer with whom our case is pending, the concept of providing access to an officer would be more likely to result in some type of pathway forward for the case.
Instead, we are generally provided access to an officer that either has no experience adjudicating the cases that we are trying to resolve or has much less experience adjudicating such cases. ISO’s are split into three classifications : ISO I, ISO II & ISO III. The officers who handle most Infopass appointments are ISO I’s. While many ISO I’s are cross-trained in handling the adjudication of I-485’s, I-751’s and N-400’s, the majority of these cases are adjudicated by ISO II’s. ISO III’s are relatively few and far between and these are journeyman or journeywoman ISO’s who are designated as senior officers as a result of their experience and expertise.
Often times, an Infopass appointment becomes necessary because there is some problem with the case that requires follow-up. And while the intent of the Infopass appointment is to resolve the problem, we are met with a less senior officer who does not know about the case for which the inquiry is made. Rather, the ISO who handles the Infopass appointment may have access to general databases indicating where a file is physically located or whether a decision has been made on a particular application. With due respect to the system, we generally know the answer to both of these questions before scheduling the Infopass appointment.
So more often than not, the Infopass appointment ends with some type of inquiry being taken by one ISO to be given to a different ISO who has responsibility for the case in question. The same result could be had by way of writing a letter or making an inquiry through fax or through email. And once the inquiry is made, the next question is how do we follow-up with the inquiry that has been made attempting to follow-up on the case that has somehow gone astray? The ISO handling the Infopass appointment may tell us to wait for 30 or 60 or 90 days and if we do not hear anything we can make another Infopass appointment to start the process over again.
The ISO who attends to the inquiry does not take any independent responsibility with regards to the inquiry. We are not provided a contact name or a contact number to speak directly with the ISO with whom we speak during the Infopass appointment. Instead, we have now brought someone else into the process who listens to our inquiry, passes messages along and then disappears from the resolution of the matter.
If my experience as an attorney is such that I find little benefit in making an Infopass appointment to resolve a difficult or long pending case, imagine what an unrepresented individual faces when she appears for that same appointment. The idea of resolving problematic cases by scheduling an appointment to discuss the case with an officer during a face-to-face meeting is a great concept. But if there is no access provided to the officer who is handling the problematic case and if the system of passing messages along does not result in the resolution of anything, then why have the system at all? The answer is that this system is a meager attempt to provide the public with the idea that problems are being resolved and that the government is providing service to its customers where the truth is that the process is too often nothing more than lip service.
In so stating, we do not intend on blaming the hard working ISO’s who have to listen to the complaints at the Infopass appointments and who try their best to direct customers to the right places to resolve their problems. This is the hardest job at CIS, one that every ISO should be required to do. If the ISO’s learn the frustration that customers endure and listen to that frustration day in and day out, perhaps the system can change from within to provide a better means of resolving problematic cases. But this is not what the agency is doing.
Instead, the agency fails at training its ISO’s handling these appointments with the finer points of resolving complicated problems. We are an office with a staff member who worked for the government and who saw how the division of the agency’s work into units works both to train employees to become specialists and at the same time trains those same officers to work with blinders – having no concept of what goes on outside of their particular unit.
Instead of training its ISO’s to understand what happens before cases come their way and after cases leave their unit, the agency concentrates its training on having its officers handle only what is in front of them. An example may help.
Mr. Stoller was an attorney who handled the representation of the government in proceedings before the Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He was trained on all of the information and law that he needed to know about how to handle cases before the Immigration Court. But I was not trained in how the cases got to Immigration Court and he had no idea what happened to these cases once the Immigration Judge completed the work required. A file would arrive in an office from another unit of the agency and once the work before the Court was completed, the file was passed off to another unit to handle the work from there on out.
Apart from other attorneys, Mr. Stoller took it upon himself to learn how cases got to the Litigation Unit (where he worked when he was an attorney) and he took it upon himself to learn what happened to the files after the litigation end of the work had been completed. But what Mr. Stoller did on my own initiative was not something that was required of him me to do, this was a part of the learning experience which he created for himself. And this is why his experience with the federal government turned out to be a great learning experience, greatly enriching the knowledge base upon which he created hi practice when he left the employ of the federal government.
Resolving problematic cases sometimes requires an attorney or an officer to think outside of the box and to take action which may not be written in the book or described in some instruction manual, but is otherwise the right thing to do.
One of the biggest problems that the government has with immigration matters is that the “file is not here.” In these times of increasing doubt regarding just about everything, the immigration authorities here in the United States never want to take any action without having “the file.” And because we now have three separate federal agencies working with the same “alien file,” placing the file in the hands of the right officer with the right agency is not as easy as we want it to be. As during the time when Mr. Stoller worked with the government, there was a file tracking system. And just as it was during his time with the government, if a file is needed a request can be instituted through the computer system that tracks the files. But that was not always good enough.
In Mr. Stoller’s end of the business, he often needed files on an expedited basis and could not wait for the slow pace of the government to get a file needed to represent the government before an Immigration Judge. So he would find out where a file was located, would call the office having control over the file and would speak with someone who could send the file directly. He would provide a courier account number and ask for the file to be sent immediately. He got up off his behind and made the file get to where it needed to go in the time frame it needed to be where the file was required. Unfortunately, few ISO’s (and few Department of Homeland Security staffers) have the initiative to take such action in order to get a file where it needed to be when it needed to be there.
The system should be one that is fair for each of us, whether a customer is represented by an attorney or is representing herself. Our office takes responsibility when it comes to our clients, when we say we are going to do something we do it. And if there are problems, we are going to figure out what is not working and try to fix it.
As an agency, CIS has shown us that it often does not understand the importance of initiative and of taking responsibility for resolving that portion of its case load which falls far behind the reported processing times. The Infopass system should be an important part of resolving cases that present problems and the truth is that Infopass does not resolve anything in a timely manner. Instead, Infopass creates even more frustration and more uncertainty because the answers that the ISO’s provide are inconsistent and sometimes incorrect.
In providing this position we do not imply that Infopass does not work at all. We have seen Infopass appointments obtain the result that is needed. Recently we traveled from our office in Orlando to the Field Office in Kendall (Miami) to inquire about a file that had disappeared from where it needed to be. The file had to be ordered and much to our surprise we received a letter scheduling an appointment for our client’s application to be addressed – one that had been pending far longer than it should have been. So the system does work, sometimes. The system would be much more productive if the system worked all of the time as it was intended to do.
The system’s well-being should not depend on which officer is randomly drawn to listen to the customer’s concerns, but it does. The system should not depend on whether the recipient of an inquiry decides whether the inquiry should be resolved, but it does. There should be some check on the overall system to see if making an appointment actually results in some type of action being taken with the cases for which inquiry is made. An independent check of the system’s efficacy would be welcomed. And this system has to be something more than the agency’s own internal review of a system that it is too concerned about saving to criticize.
From the outside it is very easy to be a critic, but the criticism is intended on making the system function better. The immigration authorities have a tremendous job to do and for the most part, most applications are resolved quickly and efficiently without as much as a problem. But when there are problems those issues must be addressed in a way that provides accountability to the agency handling the work. Infopass is a great idea and the concept of providing face-to-face appointments to discuss problematic cases is indeed a welcomed part of the government’s work.
In these days of constant communication via email, text message and other mechanisms one would think that the government could find a way to fix cases that need attention. Thus far, our experience with Infopass is that it is largely a waste of time and resources. Rather than providing a means by which problematic cases can be addressed and resolved, the process is one which does little more than pass the responsibility over difficult cases to less senior officers who need not be involved in resolving more senior officer’s problem cases.
This criticism of Infopass is based on our office’s experiences and we recognize that each customer and each attorney will have his own opinion regarding the overall success of the system that Infopass has set in place. Difficult cases can be resolved if there is an intent on both sides to resolve the cases. If Infopass is an indication of the agency’s intent on resolving these matters, we all have a long way to go to find a workable system to correct mistakes and to resolve long pending matters.