U.S. Citizenship And Immigration Services Asks For $1.2B To Make It Through The Year

Published: Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 1:00pm
Updated: Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 1:04pm
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MARK BRODIE: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has told Congress it expects to run out of money before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. The agency has asked lawmakers for an extra $1.2 billion in funding and promised to pay it back by charging people more. For more on this, we're joined by KJZZ's Matthew Casey. Hey there, Matt.

MATTHEW CASEY: Hi, Mark.

BRODIE: So how does Citizenship and Immigration Services get its funding?

CASEY: The vast majority comes from fees to process applications. Think green cards, DACA renewals, guest workers, foreign students and many others. The agency says the problem is that the coronavirus has caused the number of applications and the fees paid to plunge. I spoke with Sarah Pierce at the Migration Policy Institute. She says applications were falling before the pandemic hit nearly 900,000.

SARAH PIERCE: So a lot of these types of applications that have decreased over the past few years, you can draw a direct line between those decreases and the administration's own policies.

BRODIE: Matt, what kinds of policy specifically is she talking about?

CASEY: Well, take the president's most recent immigration order. Pausing green cards for certain foreigners. That's money not coming in. Temporary protected status, which has been a legal battle for years, is another example. People have also become wary of the agency because they know that it will make them go through lots of hoops and may even keep investigating them after they've been approved. Most importantly, though, is how the administration uses the agency. In the past, it just issued benefits. Now it's doing increased vetting and enforcement. Both require extra work by the staff. Neither brings in money.

PIERCE: This administration has really been putting USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) and its fee-funded mandate to the test.

BRODIE: Has Citizenship and Immigration Services seen the same kind of leadership turnover that the rest of the Homeland Security Department has seen under President Trump?

CASEY: No. Trump hasn't switched bosses at the agency as often as he's changed. Homeland Security secretaries, for instance. But the director's chair is technically vacant right now. The job is being done by Ken Cuccinelli, an immigration hawk. Cuccinelli is actually pulling double duty because he's also filling the role of second-in-command at Homeland Security.

PIERCE: It's really hard to have a well-managed and well-run agency when there isn't consistent leadership at the top and no one knows who to turn to for questions.

BRODIE: So, Matt, do we know if the $1.2 billion will be enough for the agency to make it to Sept. 30?

CASEY: That answer really comes down to how the agency came up with that number, which I don't know and Pierce didn't either. But let's think about this more broadly, right? Money is short because people aren't applying for benefits. Meanwhile, immigration hardliners are pushing Trump to do even more to block foreigners. Senators have sent a letter. There was an event yesterday at a anti-immigration or low-immigration groups laying out steps the president could take to block more people. So it's an election year. Trump has to keep his base happy. So more immigration restrictions are most certainly possible — if the $1.2 billion does not account for another potential drop in revenue, than Citizenship and Immigration Services could have to ask Congress for even more money.

BRODIE: All right. That is KJZZ's Matthew Casey. Matt, thank you.

CASEY: Thank you, Mark.

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