What happens to immigration services if the government shuts down?

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Lawmakers in Washington have yet to reach a deal to avoid a government shutdown. If they don’t have an agreement by the September 30 deadline, here’s how some immigration services would be affected.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would continue to operate

USCIS is the main office for immigration that deals with benefits, such as applying for citizenship, applying for a green card or applying for a work permit. Because it’s a fee-based budget — in other words, their money comes from fees charged for these services — it would not be subject to a potential government shutdown.

Haim Vasquez, an immigration attorney in the Dallas area, said USCIS has the budget to continue operating.

“We will see a slowdown because there are some employees that are part of the federal payroll and they need the money from the budget that comes from the federal government,” Vasquez said. “But the office itself of USCIS, we don’t expect them to shut down — scale down a little bit the operations — but continue functioning.”

Immigration Court would shut down

Other federal entities are different. Immigration court, for example, falls under the Department of Justice and isn’t considered essential business. That means those courts would close if federal funding runs out, prolonging the ongoing delay of immigration cases.

“As of right now, there’s an estimated number of 2.6 million cases on hold or waiting for a court date,” Vasquez said. “This number will increase or the delays will increase if there’s a government shutdown.

Currently, some cases have been delayed by as many as 5 to 7 years, meaning some people have had to wait that long for a hearing.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection would continue to operate

The government considers ICE and CBP essential services so both agencies would continue to operate during a government shutdown. But employees would likely be required to report for work without getting paid, and that could pose a problem.

“We know that employees that have to show up to work and not get paid will affect them directly. The way that they perform their job will also be affected,” Vasquez said. “We’re asking people to show up and work and not get paid for those days – that’s very difficult.”

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at [email protected]. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

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