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USCIS is relying on funding from Congress to ensure it remains operational. Photo: Telemundo
USCIS is relying on funding from Congress to ensure it remains operational. Photo: Telemundo

What’s been happening with the USCIS?

USCIS Deputy Director for policy warns of no guarantee that the agency can avoid furloughs in the future.

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On Tuesday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it is abandoning plans to furlough over 13,000 employees next week.

The shift temporarily avoids a scenario that would negatively impact the processing of multiple immigration benefits like applications for green cards, asylum requests, work permits, and U.S. citizenship.

USCIS informed Congress of its unprecedented financial troubles in mid-May 2020, asking for $1.2 billion in emergency funds while promising to repay with a 10% surcharge on applications.

But lawmakers pushed back, asserting the agency had the funding needed to continue operating through the 2021 fiscal year. This ignited a standoff between Congress and the Trump administration, and as the promise of furloughs approached, the future of the USCIS workforce grew increasingly uncertain.

The news of the furlough reversal is welcome, says the Hispanic Caucus. 

“Furloughing over 13,000 USCIS workers would have shut down the entire immigration system and unnecessarily hurt our economy,” wrote the Hispanic Caucus on Twitter. 

“The House already passed additional bipartisan relief to prevent future disruptions that now awaits action by the Senate,” the Hispanic Caucus continued.
 

But this doesn’t mark the end of USCIS's financial issues.

The service is financially dependent on fees from new immigration applications, which have seen a 50% drop in payments in June due to COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, USCIS was forced to postpone in-person interviews, fingerprint and photo appointments, naturalization ceremonies, and other in-person services.

Even before COVID-19 impacted immigration, NBC reported the USCIS has seen revenues decline sharply as a result of limits placed on immigration during the Trump administration.

A study by the nonpartisan Migration policy Institute found revenue has declined throughout the past last consecutive fiscal years — unrelated to COVID-19. The study found that the downward trend is parallel to attacks on immigration programs the Trump administration limited or tried to dismantle. 

The administration has sought to end the TPS and DACA programs — both stifled by the courts — also taking action to restrict family-based immigration, which has included imposing a wealth test for green cards. The Trump administration has also recently issued two sets of restrictions to limit work immigrant work visas.

Even though the USCIS avoided the massive furloughs, the agency warned on Tuesday that continued financial hardship could result in much longer wait times.

“Averting this furlough comes at a severe operational cost that will increase backlogs and wait times across the board, with no guarantee we can avoid future furloughs,” wrote USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow in a statement. 

Money troubles at the USCIS are far from over, meaning the future of immigration in the United States will remain uncertain for the foreseeable future. Furloughs have been paused, but it doesn’t mean the topic won’t be revisited. In the meantime, 13,000 USCIS workers continue to live in uncertainty. 

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