If there is a legacy project in the City of St. Albans that has Sen. Patrick Leahy’s name on it, it’s the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, housed in the Tabor Building on Lower Welden Street. Were it not for Mr. Leahy’s dogged commitment, the USCIS and its 600 or so employees would not be here and the city would be without one of its largest employers.

The senator’s legacy project seems at risk; severe water damage in December has rendered the Tabor Building unusable and according to a Messenger story it would be 10 months before the necessary repairs could be completed. The lease for the building ends on June 30, which has prompted USCIS to notify the facility’s owners that it would not be renewing the lease.

It’s been difficult to know precisely what’s going on, and what future plans might entail. Between the federal government, the contractor and the union representing the employees, clarity of purpose is sometimes a casualty.

What we do know is that the City needs to do all within its power to keep the immigration employees here; not only do the employees add to the heft of the local economy, USCIS is also one of the city’s largest contributors to its tax base.

The Messenger’s story points out that the company is actively looking for a replacement building in the area, which is good news, but it’s something that needs to be confirmed. In the interim, roughly 200 of USCIS’s employees have been reassigned to the Essex location of USCIS “for the foreseeable future.”

We’ve been down this road before. St. Albans was the first place Mr. Leahy designated as the headquarters for USCIS in the northeast, but as labor demands grew, Essex was able to provide some relief to meet space needs. The Essex folks have long made it clear they could accommodate any needs USCIS might have.

Hence, the “temporary” assignment of the St. Albans employees to the Essex location.

Typically, it would seem as if water damage that was incurred in December would be fixed by now, or, at the very least repairs would be in place. What owner would not move heaven and earth to get a tenant of this level back in operation as quickly as possible?

This is where the city, Senator Leahy, USCIS, and potentially the contractor, need to come together to allay the community’s concerns about losing USCIS and its 600 plus employees. Its loss would be a huge hit to the City of St. Albans and to Franklin County. It can’t be allowed to happen.

It was roughly 30 years ago that the immigration services was housed in the U.S. Postal Service building on South Main. There were roughly a half dozen or so employees, and their futures were dim, at best. It was Mr. Leahy who stepped in, made sure the jobs were protected, and then launched his campaign to build up immigration’s services in St. Albans. Altogether, the total employment of USCIS was roughly 1,100. Think of the economic multiplier those jobs have produced for northern Vermont.

The importance of USCIS to the City of St. Albans and Franklin County in general cannot be minimized nor can we allow it to “leak” away like water down the steps and out the door. It’s been at least 20 years since the USCIS has had some “new digs.”

Maybe it’s time.

The folks at USCIS need to know of our support. In addition to the City of St. Albans, no one knows how to deliver that message better than the person who began it all, and that would be Mr. Leahy.

by Emerson Lynn

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