U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency which oversees legal immigration to the United States, held the official opening of its first full-service office in the outer boroughs, in Long Island City on Friday.
The office, located at 27-35 Jackson Ave., was touted by USCIS officials as an effort to bring immigration services closer to immigrant communities. As the most diverse county in the country, Queens was “the most natural choice” for a new office, USCIS New York district director Andrea Quarantillo noted.
In Queens, over a million people — nearly half the borough’s population — were born in a foreign country. Of these immigrants, only half are U.S. citizens, according to Census data.
Last year, the USCIS processed over 100,000 immigration applications from New York City alone, while nationwide, that figure was an astonishing 67 million, according to USCIS officials.
“I would like the move into the community ... to be emblematic of the very important message that we are here for you,” said USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas of the move to Queens. Mayorkas said he hoped the office would help provide a “smooth and easy path” to help “realize immigrants’ dreams.”
Residents of Queens and Brooklyn applying for permanent residency or to become U.S. citizens will be routed to the Long Island City office. Previously, they would have had to go to offices in either Long Island or downtown Manhattan.
Naturalization ceremonies — when immigrants are sworn in as citizens — will also occur at the Long Island City office.
Such ceremonies have been held before in Queens through the Manhattan USCIS office. Borough President Helen Marshall noted one such ceremony she attended at the Queens Center Mall, for example, while Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) recalled witnessing a swearing-in at a branch of the Queens Library.
The Long Island City office has 38 interviewing officers and will be able to accommodate 500 people a day, according to Quarantillo.
But while Fatima Shama, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, touted New York’s desire to be “the most immigrant-friendly city in the nation,” and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan and Queens) noted that, “of all our challenges, it’s not a bad problem to have ... so many people [who] want to come to our country,” Mayor Bloomberg has said there are as many as half a million illegal immigrants in the city, none of whom have the ability under current law to become legal.
As Mayorkas told reporters in a question and answer period after the opening ceremony, “For those who are undocumented ... there is not a path currently for legal status.” He added that “comprehensive immigration reform” was supported by President Obama.
Yet for those in Queens with a path to legal status, the new Long Island City branch of the USCIS will undoubtedly be of service.