The Trump administration is about to achieve what many see as its long-held objective of bringing the U.S. legal immigration system to a halt. While the administration would not be allowed to stop processing immigration applications without incurring legal action, critics say that through policy choices and mismanagement of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) it may accomplish the same goal.
“The federal agency tasked with offering citizenship, green cards and visas to immigrants is planning to furlough about two-thirds of its workers at the end of the month after Congress failed to reach a deal on a coronavirus stimulus package,” reported USA Today. “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services notified about 13,400 of its 20,000 employees that they would be furloughed Aug. 30 because of budget shortfalls.”
To better understand the impact of a USCIS staff furlough, I interviewed Doug Rand, who worked on immigration policy in the Obama White House as assistant director for entrepreneurship and is the co-founder of Boundless Immigration, a technology company that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship. He is also a senior fellow and director of the Technology and Innovation Initiative at the Federation of American Scientists.
Stuart Anderson: What do you think the impact will be on U.S. citizens and immigrants if USCIS furloughs 13,000 workers?
Doug Rand: It’s hard to overstate how bad this would be. USCIS would be operating with a skeleton crew, and our legal immigration system would grind to a halt. By the agency’s own estimates, this will affect:
· Close to 1 million immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship each year. The agency has already effectively disenfranchised 300,000 of these aspiring Americans.
· Nearly 3 million people applying for temporary work permits each year, plus over 760,000 permanent residents who need to renew or replace their green cards each year. No physical green card means no ability to work. And the agency has already thrown lives into havoc with egregious delays in shipping green cards.
· 400,000 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) renewals each year. The Supreme Court told the Trump administration that its previous attempt to eliminate DACA was unlawful – but what if Dreamers simply can’t renew their work permits and deportation protections?
· Nearly 1 million U.S. citizens and permanent residents sponsoring relatives for a green card, plus over 630,000 green card applications each year.
· 156,000 married couples who need a final interview to secure permanent status.
A USCIS shutdown would also wreak havoc on international adoptions and humanitarian immigration, although by other means the Trump administration has already brought refugee and asylum programs to a near-halt.
I think it’s helpful to remember that the people who rely on USCIS and who pay its ever-increasing fees are overwhelmingly U.S. citizens, aspiring U.S. citizens and U.S. companies.
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