On January 11, USCIS Director León Rodriguez delivered his farewell address and reminded attendees and listeners of the oft-overlooked human element in immigration decisionmaking and policy. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rodríguez began by recounting humble upbringings on 82nd Street in Miami, Florida.

The narrative quickly progressed from shared homes and cramped apartments to his ascent into politics and the philosophical question underlying his tenure as Director: “Does the contemplated action help people?” Rodríguez then provided a calculated definition of ‘helping people’ in the context of immigration, which carefully balanced protecting the people of the United States from threats to national security with offering people around the world the chance for a better life.

Rodriguez continued his farewell address with passionate sentiment and professional achievement. He described his experience as Director of USCIS as if he were “the luckiest person in the world because every day we have someone earn their ticket to the American dream.” To illustrate this point, he discussed 8 million immigration cases USCIS handled in Fiscal Year 2016 as 8 million times lives were changed during his term.

When asked about his plans for the future, Rodríguez was noncommittal but stated that whether professionally or as a citizen, he would continue to be a part of the immigration community and be active on issues for the rest of his life. In his closing remarks, Rodríguez circled back to his roots and the abstract: “The measure of our humanity as a society is how we treat people in the margins of life.”

Deputy Director Lori Scialabba will serve as acting director of USCIS.

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