Comments by Sanwar Ali:
There is so much uncertainty over this. Is the threat of a furlough an attempt to put pressure on Congress to agree a deal and provide the $1.2 billion that is apparently needed by USCIS? If furlough does happen there will be even more delays in the overburdened US immigration system.
Trusted Trump advisers such as anti-immigration “white supremacist” Stephen Miller may actually be happy if the US visa system grinds to a hault. USCIS is headed by immigration hardliner Ken Cuccinelli whose boss is another immigration hardliner Chad Wolf head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Danielle Spooner, President of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 119, which represents workers within USCIS had the following to say:
“By failing to fund this agency, the administration has managed to use the global pandemic to effectively shut down all immigration to the U.S. by the end of the month, hurting thousands of American families and businesses in the process.”
Previously, it was even suggested that USCIS actually had enough money anyway, and there was no need for a furlough. Hopefully everyone will see sense and will realise what an enormous embarrassment it will be for the US, and disaster it will be for migrants and businesses if furlough does actually happen.
The ongoing saga over whether United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will have to furlough more than 13,000 staff took another twist recently as talks over bailout funds stalled. The delay has prompted Trump to announce that he would now take executive actions to revive a bill that Congress has failed to agree on.
USCIS asked for a $1.2 billion bailout from Congress, with Republicans presenting a proposal for how the funds would be used. Funds for the bailout are tied into the next coronavirus stimulus package, but Democrats and the White House have failed to reach an agreement over the bill.
With no immediate resolution likely, any hope of USCIS receiving funds has all but ended. USCIS now seemingly has no other option but to furlough staff, potentially plunging the USA’s immigration system into chaos.
No plan B to provide USCIS funding
During an interview with CNN, a congressional aide said: “There’s no plan B. The next opportunity to generate any funding will be in September through appropriations legislation – unless a COVID package is pulled together. The question is whether USCIS will delay furloughs and give us that opportunity.”
Talks did open regarding a bailout for USCIS and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This prompted USCIS to delay furloughs until the end of August. The agency had initially planned to start furloughing staff on August 3.
Reassurances from Congress and an increase in US visa and immigration applications and petitions seemingly enabled USCIS to halt furloughs.
A USCIS statement said: “In the past few months, USCIS has taken action to avert a fiscal crisis, including limiting spending to salary and mission-critical activities. Without congressional intervention, USCIS will have to take drastic actions to keep the agency solvent.”
When asked about stimulus talks stalling, USCIS declined to comment on outstanding legislation.
Furloughs devastating for USCIS employees and migrants
Michael Knowles, president of the American Federation of Government Employees local union that represents Washington, DC, area employees told lawmakers in July that furloughs would be ‘devastating’.
Mr Knowles said: “A furlough would be devastating not only to the civil servants and their families who would be without a paycheck -- but devastating also to millions of legal immigrants and lawful permanent residents, as well as to millions of American citizens.”
The concerns expressed by Knowles were echoed by former USCIS chief counsel, Ur Jaddou, who said: “A diminished workforce would result in even longer processing times and bring the system that hundreds of thousands of immigrants rely on to a standstill.”
Jaddou pointed out that there could be a surge in US visa and immigration applications, which adds funds to the coffers, before fee increases take effect. She said: “Is it enough to forestall a furlough as planned? I don't know.”
The prospect of furloughs has also sparked concerns among lawmakers. Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Patrick Leahy, welcomed furlough delays until the end of August, but said: “I’m troubled by the Trump Administration pushing for furloughs in the first place.”
It remains to be seen whether furloughs will occur at the end of August or once again be delayed.
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