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USCIS seeks $1.2 billion from Congress

The coronavirus pandemic and Trump administration immigration policies have driven down fee revenues

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in March.
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in March. (Tom Williams/ CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has requested $1.2 billion in emergency funding due to a drastic decline in green card and other visa applications that could drain its fee-based coffers by this summer, the agency said Monday.

USCIS, the Homeland Security agency that oversees naturalization and other legal immigration processes, closed all its field offices in March amid the coronavirus pandemic. That has contributed to fewer immigrants applying for visas and other benefits, the agency said in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call.

“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,” according to the statement.

The agency notified Congress on Friday of its projected budget shortfall, estimating that “application and petition receipts will drop by approximately 61 percent” through the end of the current fiscal year.

[House aid package contains key immigration measures]

USCIS said its funding proposal “protects American taxpayers by not adding to the deficit and requiring USCIS to pay the money back to the U.S. Treasury.” The agency said it would be able to pay back the money by imposing a 10 percent surcharge to USCIS application fees.

Democratic leaders of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security “are working to get more information from the agency” but did not have more details, an aide with the panel told CQ Roll Call.

Ur Jaddou, director of DHS Watch at America’s Voice, said the decrease in applications is not only because of the pandemic but because of several USCIS policies that have deterred immigrants from applying for naturalizations or other visas.

“I don’t think this is a surprise to them,” Jaddou said of the drop. “This administration has been singularly focused on cutting down both illegal immigration and legal immigration and naturalization. But in doing so, they are also breaking the system itself.”

Since President Donald Trump took office, USCIS has rolled out controversial policies that advocacy groups say discourage immigrants from applying for U.S. citizenship. Among them is the “public charge” rule that allows the federal government to withhold green cards and other visas from immigrants who use, or are deemed likely to rely on, food stamps, Medicaid, Section 8 housing and other public benefits intended to provide a safety net for the poor.

USCIS has proposed other steep increases in immigration-related fees. Most recently, the agency proposed increasing the application fee for naturalization by 83 percent, from $640 to $1,170.

The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, has said such proposed fee hikes for naturalization applications “will likely reduce the number and shift the profile of those applying for and being granted legal statuses that permit U.S. residence and citizenship.”

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