USCIS Schedules Staff Layoffs if Congress Does Not Come to Its Rescue

By David North on July 27, 2020

Update: On July 24 USCIS announced that it was postponing its plan to furlough 70 percent of its workforce, from the original date of August 3 to August 30, because its financial situation was better than it had seemed earlier. Specifically, a Law 360 report, behind a partial pay wall, stated:

But USCIS spokesperson Jessica Collins told Law 360 that the plan could now be pushed back to the end of August days after the House and Senate Democrats said the agency’s financial situation had reversed and it was now expecting to end the 2020 fiscal year with a surplus . . . As of July 10, the alleged surplus stood at $121 million, according to [Senator] Leahy's press secretary Jay Tilton.

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Details are emerging on the timing of the USCIS staff layoffs if Congress does not come to its rescue.

As we reported last month, the flow of fees paid by aliens (and their employers) seeking migration benefits of various kinds that supports USCIS financially is drying up while the more careful examination of some applications takes more time than the rubber-stamping of old. As a result, DHS has asked Congress to vote $1.2 billion in taxpayer funds to keep the agency operating.

Congress has yet to act, with the likelihood being that the USCIS funding will be included in another omnibus disaster relief bill still being debated, with the Democrats wanting money for the states and municipalities, and the Republicans reluctant to spend more than they absolutely must. The USCIS shortfall will thus become a bargaining chip.

How this will play out if the deadlock continues was described recently in the very useful alternative news website in Vermont, VT Digger, which covered the EB-5 scandals there with a remarkable thoroughness a couple of years ago.

The news site is now reporting that the staff of the local decision factory, the USCIS Vermont Regional Center, located in St. Albans and Essex, Vt., both near Burlington, have been told that the extent of the layoffs will be announced on July 2, and that they will start taking place on August 3, if Congress does not vote the needed money. Some 13,400 agency employees, nationwide, may be laid off.

The regional center has nearly 1,000 workers, according to the website, all involved in a mail-order style business of making decisions about migration benefits. Routinely there are no interviews, this being a paper-only operation. There are four other such USCIS operations elsewhere in the country.

There is a certain irony that a large proportion of the migration case decisions are located in a state where there has been so little international immigration. For example, USCIS publishes data on the state-by-state distribution of those in the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, but only for those states and territories that have 50 or more DACA recipients; the last time I looked, Vermont was the only state not on the list.

Similarly the unit of the State Department that handles the Diversity Visa Lottery program, the Kentucky Consular Center, is in Williamsburg, Ky., where the foreign-born population is 1.56 percent, compared to 13.7 percent nationally.

The location of these regional centers does not relate to migrant settling patterns; it relates to who is in power in Congress when the decision process is taking place. The Williamsburg site was chosen when the congressman from the area was chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee dealing with the State Department. As a result, the locally recruited staff is highly likely to be monolingual; on the other hand, federal money, in this instance, is being spent in Appalachia, which needs it.