Federal immigration agency to furlough employees unless Congress provides funding

(CNN)- US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency responsible for visa and asylum processing, is expected to furlough part of its workforce this summer if Congress doesn’t provide emergency funding to sustain operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Unfortunately, as of now, without congressional intervention, the agency will need to administratively furlough a portion of our employees on approximately July 20,” USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow wrote in a letter sent to the workforce on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the agency — which has 19,000 government employees and contractors working at more than 200 offices — requested $1.2 billion from Congress due to its budget shortfall.

Since then, the agency, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, has been working with members of Congress and their staffs to educate Capitol Hill on the agency’s finances and operations.

Communications from the agency to Congress have grown more urgent as the threat of potential rolling furloughs could number in the thousands, according to one source familiar with the discussions.

The goal would be to attach the needed funds to the next coronavirus relief bill, which lawmakers plan to negotiate next. Still, with both parties far apart on any resolution, there is currently no clear pathway for lawmakers to fulfill the emergency request.

The immigration agency is primarily fee-funded and typically continues most operations during lapses in funding, such as last year’s government shutdown. However, during the pandemic the agency suspended its in-person services, including all interviews and naturalization ceremonies.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS has seen a dramatic decrease in revenue and is seeking a one-time emergency request for funding to ensure we can carry out our mission of administering our nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity, and protecting the American people,” said a USCIS spokesperson.

The agency proposed a 10% surcharge on USCIS application fees to reimburse taxpayers at a later time. USCIS previously estimated that application and petition receipts will drop by approximately 61% through the end of fiscal year 2020, exhausting funding this summer, according to the agency.

By Geneva Sands and Phil Mattingly for CNN POLITICS
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