Background: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the successor agency to the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), which, along with its predecessors, dealt with immigration and naturalization for most of the twentieth century. In addition to providing immigration and citizenship services today, USCIS maintains millions of historic records on immigrants and citizens. A Genealogy Program was created in 2008 with the goal of helping researchers gain easier and quicker access to these records.
Any immigrant who arrived on or after 1 July 1924 would be found in at least one of these record sets. Immigrants who either naturalized on or after 27 September 1906, registered as an alien in 1940, or had contact with INS on or after 1 April 1944 will be found in these records. Broadly, any late-nineteenth or twentieth-century immigrant (pre-1951) is likely to show up in these record sets.
Aside from the five record sets mentioned at left, an index search may also turn up file numbers for additional records and files transferred to the National Archives decades ago. These files, which include correspondence and Board of Special Inquiry appeals, were transferred without any referencing information. Additionally, some names located in the USCIS Index Search will be for immigrants who were never made to register as aliens or who died before 1940.
Genealogists and family historians who are interested in their immigrant ancestors frequently access these records. Individuals who wish to avail of their right to dual citizenship with other countries often use these files to prove eligibility for that citizenship. Probate attorneys, and others who work in the heir-searching field, may use these files to prove heredity. Other fee-paying customers of the USCIS Genealogy program include students, scholars, sociologists, and more. Anyone interested in immigrants who arrived in the United States since the late 19th century has an interest in the historical records held by the USCIS Genealogy Program.
Many governmental agencies still hold countless records that will one day be of interest to family historians (if they aren’t already). If USCIS is allowed to go through with their rule to make these records much more difficult to access via significant fee hikes, who’s to say other governmental agencies wouldn't follow suit? Attempts to make one record set less accessible should make any researcher in any field nervous. This is precisely why we are calling for USCIS to complete the work necessary to transfer these historical records to the National Archives.