HIAS Calls For Guardrailed Funding For U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

SILVER SPRING, Md. — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, plays a crucial role in administering refugee admissions, asylum, naturalization of new Americans, and other programs that are central to our identity as a nation of immigrants and refugees. HIAS is deeply concerned about the agency’s projected $1.2 billion budget shortfall and strongly opposed to its reported plans to furlough thousands of its workers in August. 

USCIS is currently funded by the fees it charges applicants, leaving it vulnerable to budget problems if immigration is curtailed, whether by policy, emergency, or other means. While the agency blames its shortfall on the COVID-19 pandemic, the danger has been obvious since well before the pandemic started: USCIS projected its $1.2 billion deficit as early as November 2019

HIAS is calling on Congress to permanently fund USCIS’ humanitarian programs through budget appropriations instead of relying entirely on fees. “USCIS’ financial mismanagement cannot become a fig leaf for attacking refugee admissions or the right to seek asylum,” said Mark Hetfield, HIAS’ president and CEO. “We have to give the agency permanent funding and better oversight in order to protect refugees and asylum seekers. This administration should be held accountable for setting fees at record levels, deleting all references to ‘customer service’ from the agency’s mission, diverting fees paid by immigrants, refugees, and asylees to fund ICE’s immigration-enforcement efforts and, ultimately, bankrupting and paralyzing the agency entrusted to welcome and naturalize new Americans.”

In the meantime, USCIS has asked Congress for emergency funding to avoid furloughs. HIAS supports this request, but the requested bailout must be accompanied by guardrails to ensure transparency in how appropriations are spent; provide sufficient revenue to serve USCIS’ customers without overburdening refugees and immigrants; eliminate wasteful and inefficient practices that have led to record application delays; investigate the policies and practices that led USCIS to insolvency, such as the diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars in fee money to subsidize immigration enforcement; and safeguard the continuous and robust operation of the refugee and asylum programs.  

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