This summer, I participated in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Summer Enrichment Program at headquarters in Washington, DC. As “student trainee,” or intern, with the Internal Communications (IC) division within the Office of Public Affairs, I supported internal workforce communication for 19,000 government employees and contractors. Among other tasks, I provided primary support on USCIS’ tri-weekly internal newsletter, editing and publishing articles for the agency intranet site.
Through my MPA/MAIR studies at Maxwell I am concentrating on immigration and refugee policy. I applied for this internship with hopes of learning first-hand what USCIS actually does and how it operates. USCIS is the component within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) tasked with, as its mission statement says, “adjudicating requests for immigration benefits.” I had previously worked on immigration and U.S.-Mexico border policy for two NGOs in Washington, DC, but had focused primarily on political debates, border enforcement issues, and migration through Mexico. I was eager to learn more about how the actual U.S. immigration services are carried out and more about the granular process of immigrating to the U.S. and gaining citizenship.
While internal communications may seem removed from the actual immigration and refugee adjudications, and even farther from the big-picture policy work, it was the perfect window from which to learn how all of USCIS’ varied components fit together. My office cleared and sent out any policy directives and announcements from USCIS or DHS leadership to all USCIS employees. At the same time, we received articles and announcements from field offices across the country on special events, accomplishments, and trainings. To properly edit and publish them, I not only had to learn the agency style rules, but I also got to learn a little bit about what each agency component does.
The USCIS Summer Enrichment Program also provided invaluable learning and professional development opportunities for the cohort of over 60 interns. We visited a regional USCIS service center, where we heard from the officers who review the applications for specific immigration benefits, and the Virginia asylum office, where officers explained how they conduct in-person asylum interviews. We also attended a naturalization ceremony in which we got to witness dozens of people complete the rigorous process to become U.S. citizens. Furthermore, the internship program worked with several headquarters offices to host career panels and skills workshops, as well as a talk with USCIS Director Cissna. As a result of my participation, I was honored as one of three Summer Enrichment participants chosen to speak at Intern Closing Ceremony.
In the end, I succeeded in learning more completely about the structure and work of USCIS. I also built invaluable relationships with my talented Internal Communications team, and gained a renewed respect for the value of communication, clear writing, and editing in any professional field.
Emma Buckhout is a MPA/MAIR student and Robertson Fellow focusing on immigration and refugee policy.