Experts warn USCIS furloughs will hurt business, military, economy, and stifle legal immigration

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services experts and employees take to airwaves in national campaign decrying cuts, calling for Congress to act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of a new national ad campaign, experts from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are speaking out about the negative impact that moves by the White House to furlough 13,400 USCIS staff could have on American businesses, the military, the economy, and on legal immigration.

Advertisements calling for bipartisan Congressional action in order to avoid the furloughs will begin airing this week on top-rated cable news and sports networks including CNN, MSNBC, ESPN, MLB Network, and more, both in Washington, D.C.. and in key Democrat and Republican Congressional districts where workers will either face thousands of layoffs on August 3, or where it is believed that “swing votes” on the bill to fund the USCIS may be found.

The ads will also reach voters in multiple states on digital platforms including Facebook and YouTube. The first in a series of those advertisements, entitled Americans Agree: American businesses, our military and our economy depend on legal immigration, can be viewed here or on the Americans Agree website.

“We are taking our advocacy to the next level because we are terrified by the prospect of our military, American businesses, the economy, and legal applicants being further hurt if Congress fails to act,” said Danielle Spooner, who represents workers within USCIS. “This is a crisis that is generating bipartisan attention and offers of support in Congress, but we can’t take anything for granted right now. We see it as our civic duty to raise the alarm about what the consequences will be for the economy, for the military, and for legal immigration if this issue falls through the partisan cracks in our nation’s capital.”

The furloughs would represent an approximately 80% cut to the overall USCIS staff which is responsible for helping businesses, the military, and non-governmental organizations legally access the documented workforce they need, while also assisting refugees and asylum seekers to gain legal entry to the United States of America. USCIS experts and staff have received support from both Republicans and Democrats, as well as from the National Association of Immigration Law Judges.

Most immediately, the cuts slated for August 3 will put 13,400 employees onto the unemployment rolls in states such as Pennsylvania and Nebraska overnight. Experts say the job cuts will also stifle legal immigration by effectively shutting down existing legal pathways for naturalization, including for those seeking naturalization through documented military service.

“The ability to earn the opportunity of citizenship through military service to our country is a fundamental tradition and tool that to staff our U.S. armed forces and that incentivizes service,” said Michael Overman, a veteran of the U.S. Navy residing in Nebraska, and a representative of workers at USCIS. “These proposed cuts would destroy that tradition and shut down a key pipeline to service for aspiring military service members.”

“The cuts would put American businesses and the economy in a chokehold,” said Ruark Hotopp, a representative for USCIS workers in Nebraska who has spent years assisting American businesses in his role at USCIS. “Businesses and the military will definitely be the first domestic groups to feel the pain from these cuts, and it’s the wrong time for the government to hurt businesses and our armed forces which are both already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. American businesses, including many who are directly combatting COVID-19 through vital science and research, require legal pathways to achieve documentation and naturalization employees for their enterprise.”

The USCIS is traditionally self-funded, run entirely on the fees paid by legal applicants seeking naturalization and other immigration related services.

Experts within the agency say that the Trump administration has been slow to allow traditional oath-taking ceremonies and other key processes to move forward, draining the agency of the private funding on which it has allowed for years, and making the infusion of funds from Congress necessary.

The plans backed by supporters of legal immigration, the military, American businesses, and asylum seekers 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.

Some have argued that the current crisis calls for a new long-term approach by which Congress allocates more permanent public funding and also takes more oversight of the agency, but in the short term, experts and advocates say that the funding infusion offered by the USCIS through a bill sponsored by U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri’s 5th District would stave off the immediate threat posed by the furloughs and the debilitating blow it would levy against legal immigration, businesses, and the military:

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous negative impact on our nation’s economy, it is important that USCIS continue its capacity for administering legal immigration processes,” stated American Federation of Government Employees President, Everett Kelley. Thousands of potentially impacted workers at USCIS are members of AFGE. “Without this supplemental appropriation, this capacity will be profoundly undermined.”

“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. “The outcome will be more businesses trying to bypass the system and hiring in ways that go outside of the legal pathways currently available. If Congress fails to do what’s right, these cuts will penalize the law-abiding businesses that seek to play by the rules.”

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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.