The Senate on Friday voted in favor of President Joe Biden’s nomination of attorney Ur Jaddou to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, making her the first Senate-confirmed woman to lead the immigration agency since it was created nearly two decades ago.
Her nomination was confirmed in a 47-34 vote along party lines.
The Homeland Security agency, which processes visa and other benefits requests, has not had a Senate-confirmed leader in more than two years.
Speaking on the Senate floor ahead of the confirmation vote, Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said Jaddou “may be the most qualified person ever to be nominated for this job.”
“After four years of neglect and mismanagement under the Trump administration, USCIS is in dire need of leadership,” he said. “Today, the Senate has an opportunity to provide that agency with that leadership by confirming Ur Jaddou as USCIS director.”
The daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Iraq, Jaddou brings years of experience in immigration policy to the role, most recently as a director at America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group, and before then, as chief counsel for USCIS under the Obama administration.
She has also held roles at the U.S. Department of State and as chief counsel for the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel.
In statement after the vote, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas praised Jaddou's experience and said she "will administer our nation’s immigration system fairly and justly."
"As the daughter of hard-working immigrants, Ur understands how immigrant families enrich our country and the challenges they face," Mayorkas said. "I look forward to working closely with her to rebuild and restore trust in our immigration system."
Jaddou’s nomination was confirmed over protests from Republicans, who opposed her nomination during a hearing last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on that committee, had raised concerns about the Obama administration’s use of discretionary legal authorities to afford deportation protections to certain undocumented immigrants. On Friday, Grassley voted against confirming Jaddou to her post.
Jaddou inherits an agency plagued by lengthy processing delays and shaky finances. Last year, USCIS, which is primarily funded with application fees, narrowly averted mass furloughs of more than half its staff after closing its offices and suspending some in-person appointments during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.
Felicia Escobar Carrillo, USCIS chief of staff, said at a virtual conference in May that the agency will likely need to raise application fees to remain financially solvent.
“We don't want to be in a position where our staff is wondering, you know, ‘Am I going to have a job next year, next month?’” Escobar Carrillo said.
The Homeland Security ombudsman found in a report released last month that the immigration agency “is still running at a revenue loss,” and that after last year’s hiring freeze, while recently lifted, it will “take months, if not years, to re-achieve full staffing.”
During her Senate confirmation hearing in May, Jaddou said her top priority as USCIS director would be to reduce processing times that have kept thousands foreign citizens, and their employers, waiting months or longer for visas and work permits to be approved.
She also pledged to work to improve the immigration agency’s financial situation.
“My most immediate responsibilities, if confirmed, will be to return the agency to firm solvency, resolve dramatically increasing processing times and backlogs, and utilize 21st century tools,” Jaddou told lawmakers at the hearing.
USCIS is the first of the three key immigration agencies within the Department of Homeland Security to have a confirmed leader.
A scheduled meeting to consider Biden’s pick to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Texas sheriff Ed Gonzalez, was delayed until Aug. 4, after Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, was exposed to COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the nomination of Tucson, Ariz. police Chief Chris Magnus, Biden’s pick to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was held up by Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., over concerns about the border agency’s handling of racial justice demonstrations in Portland last year.