Trump Administration Making Documented Immigrants Undocumented Again
Fifty thousand documented immigrants and 125,000 immigrants who are working legally in the United States are in danger of going to prison.
Not because they did anything wrong, mind you, but because the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can't print out the green cards and other necessary work documents that they are required to have on them at all times, as per the Immigration and Nationality Act. Why? Because the Trump administration won't let them.
Up until mid-June, the USCIS outsourced printing of these documents to a private company, but due to budget constraints, that contract ended and they were supposed to start printing them "in house." It did not work out so well.
In order to print these documents themselves, the USCIS needs to hire people — but, due to financial constraints, there is currently a hiring freeze at the agency. One of the printing facilities in Kentucky has been shut down for three weeks, and the other, in Missouri, is "operating at reduced capacity" — not because of coronavirus, but because they actually cannot pay workers to do the printing. This means that immigrants, despite having done everything "the right way," as anti-immigration folks love to say, can't get the documents they need to apply for jobs or show to police demanding to see their papers.
And it's about to get even worse.
According to the USCIS, if they don't get a bailout of at least $1.2 billion from Congress, they will have to furlough 70 percent of their workforce, making it even more difficult for them to catch up with the incredible amount of printing that needs to be done. (The agency is currently funded by immigrants' application fees.)
As columnist Catherine Rampell reports in the Washington Post:
"Our volume of inquiries [has] spiked concerning cases being approved, but the cards [are] not being produced," said one agency employee. "A lot are expedite requests, and we can't do anything about it; it's costing people jobs and undue stress."
This employee added: "It really does frustrate a lot of us to not let applicants know what's really going on."
Normally, within 48 hours of an applicant's approval, USCIS's online system indicates that a card has been printed.
Immigration attorneys across the country have been puzzled recently because these status updates never appeared. Many thought the delays were tied to covid-19, which has caused other service disruptions.
This isn't the only way the Trump administration has screwed over people trying to do things "the right way" in recent months.
The administration has taken other steps in recent months that curb immigration. Presidential executive orders have almost entirely ended issuance of green cards and work-based visas for people applying from outside the country; red tape and bureaucracy have slowed the process for those applying from within U.S. borders. For a while, the agency refused to forward files from one office to another. The centers that collect necessary biometric data remain shuttered.
These pipeline delays are likely to dramatically reduce the number of green cards ultimately approved and issued this year.
Huh! It's almost as if their problem actually is with immigrants in general and not just with immigrants who aren't doing things the right way. Perhaps the Trump administration thinks that if they just don't print the documents, there will be no more immigrants. Like how Trump thinks that if you stop testing for coronavirus, there won't be any cases. Or how Donald Trump Jr. thinks (we can safely assume) that if he puts his hands over his eyes, he's invisible.
But they are here legally, and whether they have their documents on them or not, they are documented. So if a whole bunch of documented immigrants get sent to prison (or even deported) because the USCIS wasn't able to print their documents, that's gonna be on them. Not that the Trump administration, or anyone who would vote for Trump, will care (except maybe the families of Trump supporters who got deported already), but it will be on them.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse