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 – Scheduled furloughs for 13,000 members of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) staff have been delayed another two pay periods, according to the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D – Vt.

According to an announcement from Leahy spokesperson David Carle, Leahy has “received assurances from the Acting Director of USCIS that furloughs will be delayed for two pay periods, until Aug. 31, and that hopefully they will not be needed at all, if Congress and the President enact a COVID-5 [sic] emergency appropriations bill for the next fiscal year that addresses USCIS’s budget shortfall.”

After initially reporting a deficit and announcing it would furlough of about two thirds of its staff, USCIS was recently revealed to actually be facing a budget surplus going into the final months of the current fiscal year, meaning the agency would likely be able to cover costs through September.

Despite news of a surplus, USCIS leadership reportedly insisted it would continue as planned with scheduled furloughs, which had already been delayed at least once to the beginning of August.

The largely self-funded agency, which handles visa and citizenship applications, is still expecting to face a deficit at the start of the 2021 fiscal year, with officials attributing a significant decline in revenue at the federal agency to a decline in immigration spurred by COVID-19 and related immigration restrictions.

Some, including members of Vermont’s Congressional delegation, have also placed at least some of the blame in declining revenue at USCIS on hardline immigration policies from the Trump administration discouraging people from immigrating into the U.S.

Absent Congressional action, USCIS has said it would move forward with furloughing more than 13,000 members of its staff nationwide, including more than 1,100 of the 1,700 staff members working in the Vermont Service Center’s St. Albans and Essex offices.

In a subsequent statement, Leahy applauded the decision by USCIS to delay furloughs while stressing the impact the proposed furloughs would have had on a U.S. economy already struggling with the economic fallout of COVID-19 and on the U.S.’s ability to process immigration and asylum applications.

“Furloughing thousands of public servants in the middle of a pandemic and at record unemployment would have upended the lives of the dedicated women and men working at USCIS and impacted thousands who rely on their services, and after new revenue estimates showed the agency ending the fiscal year with a surplus it was completely unjustifiable,” Leahy wrote.

“I’m glad the agency decided to change course for now,” he added, “but I remain troubled the Trump Administration was pushing for these furloughs in the first place.”

Leahy serves as the vice chairman of the U.S. Senate’s appropriations committee, the committee charged with writing the appropriations bill referenced in the announcement from Leahy’s office, according to the announcement.

“As Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I am working to ensure these dedicated women and men stay on the job to help those chasing the American Dream,” Leahy wrote Friday.

“With regard to the projected USCIS deficit for fiscal year 2021, I am committed to addressing this issue in the next coronavirus supplemental so that USCIS can continue accomplishing its missions without a furlough,” his statement concluded.

Legislation had previously been revealed by Congresspersons from Missouri and Nebraska who sought to allocate emergency funding to the beleaguered USCIS.

Rep. Peter Welch, D – Vt., announced soon after the bill was revealed that he would be cosponsoring the legislation, declaring USCIS’s scheduled furloughs “a terrible catastrophe for every worker and their families” during a press conference in St. Albans on Wednesday.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 1:10 p.m. to include a formal statement from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D – Vt., and details from a press conference organized by Rep. Peter Welch, D – Vt., in St. Albans.

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