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USCIS on the Verge of Collapse

U.S. Customs and Immigration Services has begun furloughing workers, putting asylum, visa, and other programs in jeopardy

This summary was featured in Documented’s Early Arrival newsletter. You can subscribe to receive it in your inbox three times per week here.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has begun issuing furlough notices to more than 13,000 employees, a first step that will make the immigration system slower than it already is. If Congress does not provide USCIS with emergency funding before Aug. 3, the employees — over 60 percent of all staffers — will be furloughed for up to three months.

Agency officials cite a decline in immigration applications due to the coronavirus pandemic as part of the shortfall in cash. Immigration advocates say the Trump administration is to blame for the lack of funding, especially because the president essentially blocked immigration into the U.S. throughout COVID-19.

Either way, the budget shortfall will likely have widespread consequences. “Backlogs will grow longer. People will wait longer to become citizens, get green cards. Asylum will grind to a halt,” said Amanda Baran, a former immigration policy official at the Department of Homeland Security. This could have “devastating consequences for people trying to enter and for those living here,” she added.

Joseph Edlow, the acting head of USCIS, echoed Baran’s assessment. “In terms of anyone applying for a green card, for adjustment of status, or applying for naturalization, the wait times are going to increase substantially to be adjudicated. For non-immigrant visas, any sort of requests for employment authorization, any requests … to change or extend a visitor status of some sort — all of those, the wait times are going to increase,” he said. BuzzFeed News 

In other federal immigration news…

BIA Less Sympathetic Under Trump

The Board of Immigration Appeals exists to determine the worthiness of appeals to an immigration judge’s decision. And under other administrations, it appeared to be impartial and bipartisan. But since 2018, the Trump administration has gone to great lengths to shape the board to its anti-immigrant favor. It expanded the board from 17 to 23 members, with Attorney General William Barr appointing six new judges who granted asylum in less than 10 percent of cases in fiscal year 2019. The Nation

Bipartisan Bill Seeks More Hong Kong Refugees

A new bipartisan bill is aimed at providing refugee status to certain Hong Kongers at risk of persecution under China’s new national security law. The bill was introduced by Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) in the Senate and John Curtis (R-Utah) and Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) in the House of Representatives, with around a dozen co-sponsors in both chambers. The legislation would require the State Department to designate Hong Kong residents who suffered persecution or have a well-founded fear of it over political participation as refugees. The Hong Kong refugees wouldn’t count toward the current U.S. cap on refugees. The Wall Street Journal

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