The United States Department of Homeland Security demonstrated the more positive side of immigration reform to the public last Thursday July 10 when the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) held a grand opening and open house for one of its local offices in San Bernardino.
USCIS, the agency that oversees legal immigration and responsible for benefits and services, planned the move to the new facility at 995 Hardt Street for more than two years after sharing a facility with the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection at 655 W. Rialto Ave. in downtown San Bernardino.
“This was two and a half years in the making,” said field director Irene Martin. “Our staff really came through with getting everything together for this ceremony.”
The 39,000-square-foot structure includes the Info Pass room where customers can find out information about their case, offices where citizenship and green card interviews take place, and a separated room where judicial ceremonies take place when customers become naturalized U.S. citizens.
Alicia Hernandez, an Immigration Services officer who conducted tours during the grand opening said workers must be well trained and ready to handle the variety of cases that customers bring into the Info Pass room.
“They have to know a lot,” she said. “You never know when someone is going to come in for whatever reason, so you have to be ready with an answer.”
“A lot of these questions can be answered online, but not everybody has that access,” explained Hernandez. “That’s why we have the kiosks to make appointments. Otherwise, everybody is welcome to ask questions when they please.”
A poster board with the words “USCIS San Bernardino Enjoys…” was displayed in the Info Pass room to showcase the activities the officers enjoy when not on the job. Hernandez explained that sharing the poster board with the public is a way to show their more “human side”.
“Before we were with enforcement,” she said. “You would see nervous coming to the office. It’s nice to let them know that we have a human touch.”
The biggest misconception the public has is that immigration agents do not have their best interests, Hernandez explained.
“They might think that we’re all out to get them,” she said. “But there’s such a beautiful side to immigration. The history people have and the struggles they go through and seeing them crying and hugging you because they received their green card. It’s such a touching feeling.”
A small section of the new facility was dedicated to Medal of Honor recipient Jesus S. Duran, who served in the Vietnam War. Born in Mexico in 1948, he was commended for his valiant effort in saving several wounded soldiers when he rushed toward an enemy bunker with his M60 machine gun.
After leaving the military, Duran pursued a career in corrections. Working at the San Bernardino Juvenile Detention Center, he mentored youth and took them on educational field trips.
“It’s quite a tremendous honor,” said his daughter Tina Duran-Ruvalcalba. “I truly wish my dad was still alive to see all this. He would be proud.”