- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 25, 2020

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Tuesday that it will avert a massive furlough of its workforce — but the price will be severe cuts to services, including delaying naturalizations.

The agency will still conduct citizenship swearing-in ceremonies, but those seeking to adjust their immigration status or to apply for naturalization will see longer wait times, USCIS said.

USCIS, the legal immigration branch of the Homeland Security Department, is almost entirely fee-funded, meaning it gets most of its money from people applying for immigration benefits such as green cards or citizenship. The agency had warned Congress earlier this year that the coronavirus pandemic and limits on foreign arrivals were sapping its finances.

The agency asked for Congress to approve an emergency infusion of cash or else it would have to furlough employees, citing a $571 million budget shortfall this fiscal year.

But in a statement Tuesday, Deputy Director Joseph Edlow said the agency has seen some operations increase, while making unprecedented cuts, helping them reduce the gap.

It now has enough money to last the rest of the fiscal year.”

However, averting this furlough comes at a severe operational cost that will increase backlogs and wait times across the board, with no guarantee we can avoid future furloughs,” Mr. Edlow said.

He said when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, the cash crunch will hit again.

Among the cuts USCIS made to close the gap this year were “descoping” contracts that prepare applications for review. Without that preparation, adjudicators will need more time to process applications, the agency said.

Republicans and Democrats alike cheered the move, though Sen. Pat Leahy, Vermont Democrat, also complained that the agency had caused “emotional strain” for the 13,000 workers who had faced furlough.

“A completely needless crisis imposed by the Trump administration,” Mr. Leahy said.Keeping naturalizations going in the months before the election will be welcomed by groups that hope to register them as new voters. But the slower pace of approving new naturalizations is likely to draw criticism.

As of March 31, before the pandemic fully took hold, there were more than 675,000 naturalization applications pending at USCIS.

That number was still an improvement over the same point in 2019, when there were more than 710,000 naturalization applications pending.

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