- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The administration said Tuesday it has left hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space empty and halted job offers to 360 potential employees as it has tried to comply with a federal judge’s order halting President Obama’s new deportation amnesty program.

Officials had spent $11 million getting the office in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, ready to begin handling applications, but said they are doing their best to comply with the judge’s injunction that halted all work, after the court ruled Mr. Obama’s program likely violates the law.

“All hiring activity has ceased,” Dan Renaud, associate director for field operations at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The agency signed a long-term lease and so the office space is sitting empty, even though the government is still paying rent on it.

But officials managed to halt the program after only two employees were hired.

The spending is coming under scrutiny because Congress has never officially approved Mr. Obama’s amnesty, and some Republicans on Capitol Hill say the administration may be breaking spending laws even by laying plans to carry out the program.

SEE ALSO: Obama moves on immigration measures despite judge halting amnesty

USCIS officials told Congress their lawyers have looked over the situation and determined they are complying with the law.

Joseph Moore, the agency’s chief financial officer, said they keep a backup fund of about $600 million to be able to cover unexpected costs, which has helped them handle early spending on the amnesty. Eventually, fees paid by the illegal immigrant applicants will replenish that fund, plus cover all the new costs.

The amnesty would cost as much as a half-billion dollars a year and require 3,100 new officers to approve the applications, the government told Congress in a new memo last week defending the program.

The officials said they halted all work once Judge Andrew S. Hanen issued an injunction on Feb. 16 — just two days before the administration had planned to accept the first applications under an expanded amnesty for so-called Dreamers. That program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, has already approved more than 600,000 illegal immigrants for legal status, work permits and Social Security numbers, and Mr. Obama’s new program would add potentially hundreds of thousands more.

Mr. Obama in November also announced a new program for illegal immigrant parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, known as Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, which could grant legal status and work permits to 4 million illegal immigrants.

Under questioning by Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, on Tuesday, agency officials admitted they are having to scramble to hire new officers to approve the expected flood of applications, which could mean they don’t get the highest level of scrutiny.

“We would be in a better place were we able to use seasoned, experienced adjudicators,” Mr. Renaud said.

The agency confirmed that it plans to try to make up for less experienced officers by having the newer ones look at the easy parts of applications, and having more experienced officers look at the tougher questions. That means no single adjudicator would be responsible for an entire application, though, according to critics.

USCIS also said it didn’t intend to require applicants to come in for an in-person interview to be approved — a step that the union representing the officers doing the adjudications said would cut down on fraud.

“By not scrutinizing each and every applicant to the fullest extent possible to ensure America’s security, we invite an even more catastrophic event then what occurred on 09/11/2001,” said Kenneth Palinkas, the head of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council.

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