Senate aid bill allocates $3 billion to immigration agencies

Two immigration agencies facing budget deficits after struggling to collect fees amid the coronavirus pandemic would get nearly $3 billion in relief from an economic aid package unveiled by Senate Republicans.

The help would come as part of a series of measures that make up a $1 trillion plan to help address the current economic downturn by extending unemployment benefits and offering another round of tax rebate checks. But the coronavirus relief package, the result of weeklong talks between Republicans and White House officials, would not include aid to certain immigrants excluded in the last round of aid payments.

Under one part of the plan unveiled late Monday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would get a $1.2 billion loan from the Treasury Department to satisfy an emergency funding request it made to Congress in May. The fee-funded agency said without help, it would be forced to furlough about 13,400 employees, or roughly two-thirds of its staff.

The Republican plan also would allow USCIS to add a surcharge to its application fees to help the agency pay back its loan to the government.

USCIS announced last week that it would postpone its furlough plans for a month, until Aug. 30, to give lawmakers more time to act on its request. The agency, which is responsible for allocating immigration benefits and visas, also said “an uptick in application and petition receipts” has provided some flexibility in helping to pay for expenses through the end of the current fiscal year.

The coronavirus relief package would also provide $1.6 billion to Customs and Border Protection “to account for fee shortfalls to continue immigration processing and customs-related activities normally funded by fees,” according to a summary of the plan.

International travel and border crossings have dramatically plunged since the beginning of the pandemic and amid border restrictions set by the Trump administration.

By Camila DeChalus for Roll Call
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