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Vermont Congressman Outlines Efforts To Stop Immigration Services Furloughs

Congressman Peter Welch discusses pending furloughs at the nearby USCIS service center in St. Albans
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Congressman Peter Welch discusses pending furloughs at the nearby USCIS service center in St. Albans

Earlier this year the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to furlough over 13,000 employees at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices nationwide. In Vermont more than 1,100 jobs are at risk. Congressman Peter Welch was in St. Albans Wednesday to call on federal authorities to stop the planned job cuts and explain how the Vermont Congressional delegation is trying to avoid them.
The Department of Homeland Security told Congress on May 15th that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – or USCIS – faced a $571 million deficit by the end of the fiscal year on September 30th.  The agency requested emergency funding of $1.2 billion and announced that over 13,000 furloughs, or about 3/4 of the workforce, would occur.

Vermont at-large Democratic Congressman Peter Welch stood in Houghton Park adjacent to the St. Albans service center where about 1,100 jobs will be cut.  “It’s not about performance issues. It’s not about reorganization. It’s not about efficiencies. It’s about COVID. And the USCIS instead of adapting to the circumstances, which means that we protect our workers because we’re going to need them when we come out on the other side, is throwing up its hands as though there’s no solution. And they have the money now and they can get the money in the future.”

Welch says Congress is willing to help with a solution and Vermont’s Congressional delegation is working together on potential solutions.  “The legislation that I’m co-sponsoring, bipartisan, in the House would supplement funding for the USCIS in order to maintain service. Number two, Senator Leahy in his role as vice-chair of the Appropriations committee learned that contrary to what USCIS has been saying about a deficit they actually have a carry-forward surplus. So there’s absolutely no need for furloughs to occur now.  So the combination of that money that’s there and the legislation in the House to continue funding would mean that we could keep these folks on the job.”

Democratic U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy’s state director John Tracy reported that Leahy, along with Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee Ranking Member Jon Tester of Montana, wrote to the Department of Homeland Security’s Acting Director demanding furloughs stop.  “Now they do have an expected shortfall in Fiscal Year ’21 and Senator Leahy is committed to working on that. But there’s no need for a furlough now, they have a surplus through the end of this fiscal year. Senator Leahy for months has been urging the Republican leadership in the Senate to take up legislation to get the funding that USCIS needs.”

UE Local 208 President Kelly Robtoy says the Trump Administration should submit an immediate request to Congress, which must approve emergency funding for USCIS.  “Expanded unemployment insurance is ending. No second stimulus check is on the way and we are now facing the possibility of massive layoffs at the Vermont service center. There are not adequate sustaining jobs to replace them in Franklin County. The loss of our jobs will be felt in our local and state economies. Our members will not get what we are paid now in unemployment benefits and we will lose our medical insurance.  A bill needs to be passed to continue the operations of our legal immigration system to support the system workers both as contractors and its federal employees.”

Again Congressman Welch: “This is just really bad management at USCIS and you’ve got a Congress that’s willing to step up and appropriate funds to make certain that good hard-working folks stay on the job.”

About 1,100 federal and 400 contract workers in Vermont would be affected by the furloughs, which are scheduled to begin August 3rd.