Leveraging Past Successes to Achieve the Outcomes of Immigration Reform

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February 05, 2015

In his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama reiterated his focus on reshaping how our country handles immigration. One of the first steps taken by the President was in November when he announced an executive action to provide deportation relief for nearly 4.4 million undocumented immigrants. As the federal government prepares to implement this reform initiative and other programs that support immigration reform, there is a need to develop processes that ensure the integrity and mission of the programs, deliver the intended outcomes, and are scalable to manage volume surges, all while ensuring the security and accuracy of the information and data.

Program reform is certainly not new to government. The rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ushered in new health care reform. The Veterans Administration (VA) is undergoing changes on how they process the claims backlog and new ways to get veterans access to health care.  Even the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002 was an organizational transformation of government aimed at protecting citizens against terrorism. Each of these reforms brought challenges, but also lessons learned and experiences that can be leveraged to support a successful immigration reform.

Data Collection and Verification

One example of reform challenges that the ACA faced, was the verification of data for applicants’ seeking health care coverage. Similarly, as eligible immigrants begin applying to these new programs, the ability to collect and verify the requisite data is increasingly difficult.

Responding to Changing Demand for Services

An important lesson learned from both the launch of the ACA and the claims backlog at the VA is ensuring the ability to scale quickly when there are surges in programs.  Well-defined processes can create efficient workflows, but as we saw in both programs, there is rarely a steady flow of demand for services – they tend to peak and dip, sometimes unexpectedly. By developing processes that can both manage the outreach efforts that drive the demand for services and building-in capacity that is quickly scaled up or down, these surges – while preventing cost overruns from scaling too much and ending up with underutilized resources – can be nearly invisible to citizens.

Risk Reduction and Secure Information Sharing

One lesson that came from the establishment of DHS was the important role of risk reduction and secure information sharing. While there are many security programs in place to identify terrorism threats, most do not share data or information that could be used cohesively to verify and identify them. With immigration reform, the ability to develop and integrate information from DHS and other agency sources becomes a critical component for determining the eligibility of applicants and ultimately the security of our nation.

Immigration Reform: Next Steps

The first step has been taken with immigration reform: DHS, through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), will begin administering a program for lawful immigration to the U.S. with access to the naturalization process called the Deferred Action for Parents of Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents (DAPA). The DAPA Operations Center, which will be located in Crystal City, Virginia, will process requests for deferred action for parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents and will be supported through a combination of government staff and contractors.

The DAPA Operations Center is an important step into immigration reform, one that will require careful planning and attention to the processes that will be the foundation of the program’s operations. While the government can leverage its own successes from past reform efforts, choosing a partner that understands government programs, has the demonstrated ability to scale up and down, has a solid track record on integrity and security, and has effective continuous improvement for business processes will be critical for DHS’ success on the program.