Nearly 70% of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services workers will be furloughed because processing fees that fund the agency have plummeted — but Congress is holding up emergency funding, the New York Times reported.
Joseph Edlow, the deputy director for policy of the agency, which screens people seeking immigration relief and protection, has told his approximately 19,000 employees the revenue drop from immigration and visa applications during the coronavirus pandemic has forced the agency to turn to Congress for an infusion of $1.2 billion.
But Congress hasn't moved on the request for weeks while the the agency prepares to furlough nearly 13,400 employees by Aug. 3, the Times reported.
Depending on who you ask, either President Donald Trump’s restrictive immigration policies or the coronavirus pandemic are to blame — or both, the Times reported.
Russell Vought, the acting White House budget director, told lawmakers the agency’s fee receipts could fall by more than 60% by Sept. 30; of the agency’s $4.8 billion budget, 97% comes from such fees, the Times reported.
“This feels like the culmination of three and a half years of policy change and policy shifts, one after another in terms of restricting immigration,” Jason Marks of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924, which represents some Citizenship and Immigration Services workers, told the Times. Marks is one of those targeted for a furlough.
Part of the problem is that the agency “operates more like a traditional business rather than a government agency funded entirely by appropriations,” Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said in a letter supporting the emergency funding request, the Times reported.
Yet both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are looking for accountability, and have said they needed a formal request for the emergency aid that included how the money would be spent, the Times reported.
Michael Knowles, president of Local 1924, said his workers are caught in the middle.
“You’ve got people who don’t like our administration’s policies saying, ‘Why should we give more money to fund an agency that’s being used to fund things like MPP?’” Knowles told the Times, referring to the Migrant Protection Protocols policy, which forces migrants to wait in Mexico while their cases for asylum in the United States are processed.
“And then on the other hand, you’ve got people on the right wing who don’t want to fund the agency saying, ‘Why would we fund an agency who’s been giving away the key to America for years?’”
In a statement, Edlow stressed the dire immediate future USCIS workers face.
“This week, thousands of dedicated public servants received possible furlough notices, causing concern for their livelihood during these challenging times,” he said. “The last thing we want is for Congress to play politics with our work force.”
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