In early August, North Miami immigration attorney Jill Grucan accompanied one of her clients to an interview for his application for U.S. citizenship.
Her client, a 54-year-old with Down syndrome, was born in Venezuela to Cuban parents and became a permanent U.S. resident in 2015. Prior to the interview, Grucan submitted a medical waiver so her client could be excused from the English-language and civics requirements of the citizenship test, an exception provided to people with physical or developmental disabilities.
But when Grucan and her client showed up at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office in Kendall, an immigration officer mocked her client for his disability, she says. The officer told Grucan she couldn't conduct the interview because her client was "unaware." Grucan told the officer her client could understand and asked her to conduct the interview.
Grucan says the officer questioned how she could do an interview with "an unaware." Grucan asked the agent to clarify what she meant.
The immigration officer nodded toward the man "as if to say, 'Look at him,'" Grucan says. The officer looked down at the client's citizenship application and repeated that he was unaware.
Despite Grucan's pleas to continue the interview, the officer became exasperated and raised her voice. Grucan says her client became nervous. He shut down and couldn't answer the officer's questions because she was shouting, according to Grucan. He cried and trembled. The attorney asked to speak to the officer's supervisor.
"I nearly climbed across her desk," Grucan tells New Times. "This man is the sweetest. I just can't imagine why anybody would talk to someone like that. He completely shut down, didn't know what to say. She was shouting and being harsh."
USCIS spokeswoman Ana E. Santiago, citing the Privacy Act, said the agency does not comment on any case. She told New Times she could not provide information about whether immigration officers receive training for interviewing immigrants with disabilities.
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Following the encounter, Grucan sent a complaint to the director of the USCIS Kendall Field Office. In the letter, she says the officer's conduct "can only be explained by discrimination and hostility toward disabled people." She requested a response from the field office director and discipline for the officer, but she says she hasn't heard back.
Grucan has also filed complaints with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General and the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
She adds that the officer also questioned whether her client's green card was issued correctly. Her client's case might need to be reviewed by the USCIS Office of the Chief Counsel. For now, the man's citizenship is on hold.
"It's very upsetting," Grucan says.