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Featured Issue: USCIS Budget Shortfall and Furloughs

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On July 24, 2020, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced that USCIS has agreed to postpone the furloughs of more than 13,000 USCIS employees from August 3 until August 31. However, AILA members should continue to apply pressure to ensure that Congress holds USCIS accountable for its budget shortfall.

On July 29, 2020, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship conducted a USCIS oversight hearing. The hearing consisted of a government panel with Joseph Edlow, Deputy Director of USCIS, as well as a non-government panel. AILA’s Director of Government Relations Shev Dalal-Dheini testified in the non-government panel, along with Doug Rand of Boundless, Michael Knowles, President of AFGE Local 1924, the local USCIS labor union, and Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies.

AILA Insight: Given the revised estimates, the question of whether USCIS employees must be furloughed on August 3, 2020, is entirely within USCIS’s power. However, it must be noted that the $1.2 billion emergency funding request made by USCIS to Congress in May 2020, was to see the agency through the end of the calendar year, not just the fiscal year. USCIS based their request on the extremely low receipts they received at the beginning of the COVID pandemic and assumed that receipts would remain steady at that low rate through the end of the fiscal year. However, their calculations were wrong and receipts have been higher than predicted, which originally allowed furloughs to be pushed off from early July to August. With the most recent revised revenue estimates, USCIS could delay the furloughs again. However, USCIS could still go forward with furloughs because the surplus may not provide a sufficient enough cushion needed to begin the new fiscal year given the fact that many contracts come due, in addition to needing to meet payroll. So while the agency may have surplus for the fiscal year, they may still have shortfall for the calendar year.

AILA members should continue to Take Action by calling on their members of Congress to hold USCIS accountable for this budget shortfall and ensure that any funding provided by Congress is conditioned on key changes centered on transparency, fiscal responsibility, and efficiency.

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In May 2020, USCIS notified Congress of a massive projected budget shortfall that is threatening the agency’s operations and the financial wellbeing of thousands of USCIS employees. USCIS has requested a $1.2 billion bailout from Congress to keep the agency afloat. Without this funding, USCIS claims that it will not have sufficient funds to maintain its operations through the end of the fiscal year or to fund its operations during the first quarter of FY2021.

USCIS has begun issuing furlough notices to its employees and anticipates that the agency will need to furlough approximately 13,400 employees starting August 3, 2020, if the agency does not receive funding from Congress. Employees may remain furloughed until October 1, 2020.

Potential Impact of Furloughs on the U.S. Legal Immigration System

  • The anticipated agency furloughs will halt U.S. immigration, negatively impacting families, U.S. businesses, educational institutions, medical facilities, and churches.
  • If USCIS is essentially shut down, immigrants who are in the process of becoming naturalized U.S. citizens will not be able to complete the process in time to register to vote, DACA recipients will not be able to renew their benefits, asylum applicants will face increased delays, and businesses will be unable to hire or retain employees.
  • According to the Migration Policy Institute, “For each month the USCIS furlough lasts, 75,000 applications for various immigration benefits will not be processed.”

Potential Impact of Furloughs on the USCIS Ombudsman’s Office

AILA Resources

USCIS’s $1.2 Billion Emergency Funding Request

Congressional Efforts

Media Resources