Congress Must Act: Two Thirds of USCIS Employees Set to Be Furloughed at the End of the Month

According to a report from CNN, several thousand employees at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are facing furlough at the end of August. Due to the coronavirus, USCIS is dealing with a severe budget crisis. The agency needs immediate, dedicated funding to keep operations at its current levels. As many as two thirds of USCIS employees may be furloughed without congressional legislation.

Negotiations are Stalled in Congress: No Clear Path Forward

Back in May, representatives for USCIS told Congress that the agency is facing an enormous budget shortfall. As a direct consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS needs an additional $1.2 billion in dedicated funding to keep its current level of operations. Nonetheless, congressional leaders have been unable to come to an agreement to get more money to the agency.

As reported by the Washington Post, CARES Act II negotiations recently collapsed as the Trump Administration, congressional Republicans, and congressional Democrats remain very far apart on a bill. Republicans want a $1 trillion economic relief package and Democrats want a $3 trillion economic relief package. Not only are the numbers far apart, but the sides disagree on several key issues.

That being said, both Republicans and Democrats broadly agree that USCIS needs immediate funding. However, as the wider budget conflict has stalled negotiations, there is no clear path forward at the moment. As an anonymous congressional aide told reporters from CNN, “there is currently no plan B” to get money to the federal agency.

13,000 USCIS Employees at Risk of Furlough; Could Bring Immigration System to a Halt

It is important to emphasize just how steep the budget problems are at USCIS. The agency has approximately 19,000 employees. Without additional funding from Congress, more than 13,000 employees—two thirds of the total staff at the agency—are at risk of being furloughed, with relatively little notice. Currently, USCIS is set to begin mass furloughing employees on August 30th.

These furloughs would cause immediate and severe hardship to many people – not just to the employees at the agency, who would suddenly lose their paycheck, but also to millions of immigrants who are currently trying to navigate the application process. With such drastic, unplanned staff cuts, USCIS operations would all but grind to a halt.

The bottom line: The crisis at USCIS is avoidable. In fact, the fix is straightforward. Congress needs to take immediate action to provide additional funding to the agency. Our immigration system has long been overburdened and delays have been a consistent problem.

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