Customs eyes move to new building: City council pledges to keep USCIS here

A sign warns against trespassing outside of U.S. Customs and Immigration Services’ St. Albans City campus.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which employees more than 1,700 Vermonters, primarily at the Vermont Service Center in St. Albans and Essex, is facing a $1.2 billion shortfall.

The agency, which processes applications for visas and for U.S. Citizenship, operates four processing centers in the U.S., one of which is based in Vermont. Funding for the agency comes from the fees paid by applicants.

A drop in applications, some attributed to the COVID-19, but others predating it, is responsible for shortfall. USCIS told CNN that the agency expects that when the federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, the agency will have a shortfall in fee revenue of 61 percent.

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is aware of the situation and is following it closely, with a particular focus on how the shortfall could impact USCIS employees in Vermont, Leahy spokesperson David Carle told the Messenger.

"This is just one example of the many ways the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the nation in ways that are often hard to predict. As Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee Senator Leahy has been pushing for serious negotiations to begin on the next coronavirus relief package so that we can work through how best way to address these and many other issues, and prevent more harm to Vermonters and the American people, but Senate Majority Leader McConnell has shown no interest, preferring instead to 'wait and see.'" Carle said. "Senator Leahy calls that the opposite of leadership."

"In addition, Congress has yet to receive a request from the White House detailing the shortfalls at USCIS and asking the Appropriations Committee to address them, but that has been their MO since the beginning of this crisis," Carle added.

It is unclear to what extent the crisis in USCIS funding is the result of the coronavirus and to what extent it is the result of Trump administration policies discouraging immigration to the United States.

In April, the administration suspended the issuance of green cards for those abroad seeking to come to work in the U.S. for 60 days. However, the administration did recently ease requirements for H-2B visas for workers who come to the U.S. for seasonal agricultural work.

President Donald Trump began his administration with an effort to ban immigration to the U.S. from a wide swathe of countries, resulting in protests and a series of court battles, which the administration eventually won, but with a narrower list of countries on the banned list.

The administration is currently fighting in the courts to try and implement a requirement preventing those without health insurance or who might someday require public assistance from coming the U.S. Courts have so far blocked that policy. 

Trump has reduced the number of refugees allowed into the country and ended Temporary Protected Status for people from several countries. The status is granted to people in the U.S. from countries experiencing a natural disaster or armed conflict allowing them to remain in the U.S. until conditions have improved in their home countries.

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