A recent conversation reminded me of the iconic line delivered in James Earl Jones’ deep baritone to a young Simba in Lion King: “Remember who you are.”

In February 2018, the then Director of the USCIS said:

In my short time as director of USCIS…I am pleased to share with you our agency’s new mission statement:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.

I believe this simple, straightforward statement clearly defines the agency’s role in our country’s lawful immigration system and the commitment we have to the American people.”

Most would consider as self-evident what was conveniently and glaringly left out of this new mission statement: we are a nation that has long prided itself on being a melting pot, with the contributions of generations of immigrants and indigenous people.

In some very recent good news, USCIS rewrote its mission statement and shared it with the world on Wednesday, February 09, 2022:

“USCIS upholds America’s promise as a nation of welcome and possibility with fairness, integrity, and respect for all we serve.” 

This new mission statement, which focuses on welcoming and recognition of all those USCIS serves is a good step forward. Arguably, the fact that it doesn’t single out immigrants as the only audience it serves is more accurate, since we know non-immigrants are also impacted by USCIS decisions.

I’ve been surprised over the years as an immigration attorney when immigrants themselves, people who have gone before USCIS for matters and eventually become U.S. citizens, don’t seem to remember the processes they personally dealt with.

The conversation that I referred to in the opening paragraph was with a newly minted entrepreneur and U.S. citizen, who was exploring the possibility of filing an immigrant petition for an employee. The client made a cryptic comment: “I just don’t know how this thing works, or if it’s even worth it!”

I was taken aback. Had this person not just been through the same process and reaped the benefit? I realized after some contemplation that the sudden reticence was understandable given the inherent processing delays and uncertainty. But, was this simply a case of disassociating with a past traumatic experience? A colleague with a background in psychology pointed out that disassociation is often a coping mechanism for people who are victims of extreme trauma, or stress. I will leave that discussion to more able minds in that field of endeavor.

For now, it may be useful to recall the sentiment voiced by James Earl Jones and engage in a conversation about our country’s past, which was so clearly shaped by immigrants, and to then look at what brings us together. Restoring pride in our heritage as immigrants and non-immigrants alike and knowing how we got here, and why it matters, is important.

The recent Afghan crisis and influx of immigrants needing assistance—among other crises —has made the discussion on inclusion and diversity more necessary than ever. This is where I believe The Center for Inclusion and Belonging could help. It is a fantastic idea that is much needed in today’s America. Through creative partnerships with the Ad Council and advertisements that highlight a sense of belonging, we must talk more about our shared values and core beliefs as an inclusive nation.

We must do what we can to address the divisiveness and sense of defeatism that pervades our everyday lives. Only by overcoming our differences can we be “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”