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.

ST. ALBANS — Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy reported Wednesday morning that on Tuesday night U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) informed him it will be furloughing 1,111 people out of the 1,700 employed at the Vermont Service Center.

Nationally, USCIS has sent furlough notices to 13,350 of its 19,000 employees, Leahy said in speech on the Senate floor Wednesday. Those furloughs begin on Aug. 3.

Staff at the Vermont Service Center here in St. Albans, which also operates offices in Essex, process applications for visas, citizenship and asylum.

USCIS funds its operations through the fees paid by applicants.

The agency has said its revenues will be down 60 percent from the previous year when the current federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

According to the agency, it needs $1.2 billion in emergency funding to avoid the furloughs.

Leahy, who is vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has said the administration has not yet formally asked Congress to appropriate those funds. Nor has it requested emergency funding for any federal agency.

When asked about the furloughs on Wednesday, Gov. Phil Scott said, “That would be, again, a blow to our economy... We have 40,000 to 50,000 on unemployment right now.”

“We’ll do whatever we can to assist them,” Scott added.

St. Albans City Mayor Tim Smith, who heads the Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation, said these furloughs will hit communities already struggling in the wake of the pandemic hard. “This is going to be huge.”

“The trickle down effect will be long lasting,” Smith said.

In recent years, Franklin County has built a diverse economy that includes manufacturing, agriculture and government. While manufacturers are hiring, agriculture and now the government sector are struggling. The hiring being done in manufacturing will not be enough to offset the USCIS losses, Smith said.

Smith called USCIS “a model agency,” saying, “they’ve paid their way over the years.” Now, when they need some help, they can’t get it, he added.

Sen. Patrick Leahy at Stony Pond Farm, Fairfield - 8-22-2019

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D — Vt., speaks with reporters during an August visit to Stony Pond Farm in Fairfield.

Leahy took to the Senate floor on Wednesday for the second day in a row to try to convince his colleagues to take up another coronavirus relief package, including the emergency funding needed by USCIS.

“Every day I talk to Vermonters,” Leahy said, “and I hear their urgent need from families to schools to hospitals to federal employees.”

With USCIS furloughing 13,350 employees nationwide, “we have 13,350 new and urgent reasons why the Senate must act,” Leahy said.

Many of those employees have skills acquired through years of experience, Leahy noted. “They play an important role in our nation’s immigration system.”

“USCIS is simply saying they can’t pay employees with revenues they do not have,” Leahy said.

“The shortfall is not entire due to COVID-19,” Leahy said. “Frankly, the Trump administration’s mismanagement and extreme immigration policies have only worsened the situation.”

“No matter the cause, this budget shortfall is real,” Leahy concluded.

The furloughs, he said, will cause unnecessary hardship for employees and their families, but also the communities where they’re located.

But the furloughs can be prevented if Congress acts.

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee agree on the vast majority of a possible coronavirus assistance bill, Leahy said. The House, he noted, passed just such a bill six weeks ago, but Senate Republicans have refused to take it up even as case counts have climbed in 31 states.

“We must not wait any longer,” Leahy said.

With the Senate about to enter a two-week recess, he suggested the Senate begin bipartisan, bicameral negotiations on a relief package which the Senate could take up when it returns.

Recess, Leahy said, doesn’t mean work has to stop. “We can do our work from wherever we’re located.”

“We should be willing to stand here and vote,” Leahy said. “The men and women of every single one of our states deserve no less.{span class=”print_trim”}

Update: This story was updated at 1:45 p.m. on July 1 to include comments from Tim Smith and Senator Patrick Leahy.

Recommended for you