Immigration System Warned of ‘Devastating Consequences’ from Staff Layoffs

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Photo by the Federal Register via Flickr.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency is in crisis-mode as it prepares to furlough 13,400 employees — more than 60 percent of its staff — unless Congress provides a $1.2 billion emergency bailout by August 3, the Washington Post and BuzzFeed News report. 

Even though the deadline is just over a month away, there are still “significant obstacles” in coming to an agreement between the Republicans and Democrats, congressional staffers, and Department of Homeland Security officials have told Washington Post reporters. 

The agency’s place in the immigration system is “integral” as the USCIS officers “provide work permits, conduct initial asylum screenings that determine whether immigrants can make their case for protection in the US, and issue green cards and naturalizations, among other tasks,” BuzzFeed News explained.

Moreover, if a furlough of this massive size takes place, many are worried about what unprecedented impact this will have on our legal and illegal immigration system, advocates say. 

Amanda Baran, a former immigration policy official at the Department of Homeland Security who is now a consultant, spoke with BuzzFeed News about the impact this could have on the U.S. immigration process. 

The number of furloughed employees, she said, would lead to “devastating consequences for people trying to enter and for those living here.”

Baran predicted that if there’s a significant cut to the staff, “…backlogs will grow longer. People will wait longer to become citizens, get green cards. Asylum will grind to a halt.”

Sharvari Dalal-Dheini, director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a former agency official agrees with Baran, saying, “It essentially will shut down the immigration system — sort of the final nail in the coffin.”

What’s more alarming, Dalal-Dheini says, is this will stretch further than the immigration system and negatively impact “families, US businesses, educational institutions, medical facilities, and churches throughout the United States” where our immigrant neighbors live and work. 

Without a secure, easy and accessible way to become a legal immigrant in the U.S., many are worried that illegal immigration will increase. 

The American Immigration Council, an organization that researches and analyzes the immigration process in the U.S., has been studying why the solution to immigration isn’t as simple as saying “get in line for legal citizenship.” 

“Although there are some lines,” the American Immigration Council said in a published paper, “many aspiring lawful permanent residents are not eligible to be in any of them.”

“Even if an unauthorized immigrant does meet the formal requirements to immigrate, the wait can be very long if the individual is applying from a country that is currently oversubscribed,” the paper detailed. 

To currently qualify for legal immigration, applicants must have a high school education and two years of job experience, and poverty or difficult economic conditions in their home country is not reason enough to immigrate to the U.S., according to the USCIS applications. 

Moreover, if a child of an already emigrated U.S. citizen from Mexico wants to join their parent in the U.S., the American Immigration Council has cited that the child “must wait more than 20 years for a visa to become available.”

Because of all of these existing legal hurdles and mountains to climb, compounded by the threat of 60 percent of the USCIS officers being furloughed, it’s very likely illegal immigration will rise during this unprecedented time. 

“Migration patterns are changing, and what has been fueling our business revenue was new people coming in,” an official for the USCIS said to Washington Post reporters. “It was a well-oiled machine.”

“But now the supply chain is broken, and USCIS cannot expect to run its business as normal.”

Additional Reading: Up to 850,000 Immigration Cases in ‘Limbo’ After Pandemic Shutdown: Study

This summary was prepared by TCR staff writer Andrea Cipriano

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