21 days: Experts warn USCIS furloughs at end of the month will effectively halt the U.S. legal immigration system

Backdoor efforts by Trump administration latest in effort to stop legal immigration

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The American legal immigration system will grind to a halt at the end of the month if Congress doesn’t approve $1.2 billion in emergency appropriations for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), experts warn.

With 70 percent of USCIS employees slated to be furloughed on August 31, 13,400 fewer employees will be processing immigrants into the country, slowing America’s already backlogged immigration system to a standstill. The union representing these workers allege that this is intentional.

“This isn’t only about the 13,400 American families about to be laid off during a pandemic –this is yet another thinly veiled attack on the legal immigration system by Trump administration officials like Stephen Miller,” said Danielle Spooner, President of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 119, which represents workers within USCIS. “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.”

White House senior advisor Stephen Miller and others within the Trump administration have repeatedly taken aim at the U.S. legal immigration system, from more overtly political moves like the U.S.-Mexico border wall to the recently rescinded ICE policies barring international students taking online-only classes from the country. According to an analysis from the National Foundation for American Policy, immigration policies under Trump have reduced legal immigration by 49%. The USCIS furloughs appear to be another step to halt immigration.

The USCIS is traditionally self-funded, run entirely on the fees paid by legal applicants seeking naturalization and other immigration-related services. Under the Trump administration, costs have risen due to new hires at the agency focused on investigating potential fraud in immigration applications. 

“I don’t think I can emphasize enough how large an issue this will be – we’re looking at the final days of legal immigration as we know it in the United States,” said Ruark Hotopp, a representative for USCIS workers in Nebraska who has spent years assisting American businesses in his role at USCIS. “International students, scientists coming to America to study COVID-19, asylum seekers, workers recruited by American businesses, refugees – we’re talking about millions of people dealing with an immigration system running at 30 percent of the capacity it usually does. Our economy will lose billions in revenue, American businesses will lose access to the workforce they need, and hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants will be thrown into limbo.”

Originally slated for August 3, the furloughs were pushed back to August 31 after the agency received more funding than expected for summer. AFGE Council 119 recently launched a campaign calling on Congressional funding for USCIS, called Americans Agree. A petition from the national AFGE has garnered over 15,000 signatures so far.

A bill introduced by U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver (MO-5) would pay back the $1.2B Congressional infusion of funds – allocated over two years – by adding a 10% increase to fees paid by legal applicants until private funding for the USCIS stabilizes. 

Funding for the USCIS has received bipartisan support in Congress, though Democrats have stated they want the funding contingent on reforms at USCIS.

“Unless Congress acts, United States businesses who play by the rules will be devastated by these cuts,” said Nick Walsh, who represents USCIS workers in Pennsylvania. “Before we can talk about reforms, we need to keep the trains moving and keep the agency funded before time runs out – for our economy, our thousands of employees and the millions of immigrants who rely on us.”

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The American Federation of Government Employees Council 119 represents more than 13,400 experts and employees from across the nation who together serve the American public by operating the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which provides services to American businesses, the military, and non-governmental organizations pursuing legal immigration solutions for their workforces, while also supporting refugees and asylum seekers from across the world.