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Economy

Federal Furloughs Could Put Thousands of San Diego's Immigrants Out Of Work

A man takes the oath to become a citizen at a drive-thru naturalization site in El Cajon on June 29th, 2020.
Max Rivlin-Nadler
A man takes the oath to become a citizen at a drive-thru naturalization site in El Cajon on June 29th, 2020.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says it will be forced to furlough over 13,000 employees nationwide at the end of this month. The agency is in charge of approving green cards and naturalizing new citizens, and the furlough would amount to over 60% of its workforce.

The federal agency is mostly funded by fees it charges to immigrants to obtain green cards or become naturalized citizens. With those processes put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic, the agency says it faces a serious budget shortfall.

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With Congress in recess until the end of the month, further federal support for the agency seems unlikely before the August 30th deadline for averting the furloughs.

VIDEO: Federal Furloughs Could Put Thousands of San Diego's Immigrants Out Of Work

“I think it’s a very challenging time overall,” said Nadine Toppozada, director of immigrant and refugee services at Catholic Charities of San Diego. “If we go to the 30,000-foot level and we’re looking at everything that’s going on right now with immigration, furloughing of 67% of USCIS, more than doubling the fees that USCIS was charging for naturalization ... the hurdles are very difficult to navigate through.”

Toppozada says a furlough of this size will keep families separated and many people out of work for years, as these delays reverberate through the system.

“We’re not talking here an additional four, six or eight months. We’re talking about years for people in order to have some security in their immigration status and some footing as they try to live here in this country,” Toppozada said.

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With thousands of people in San Diego set to have their work permits expire, and others looking to naturalize before this November’s elections, the furloughs at USCIS could have a massive impact on the political and economic future of the region.

In a last-ditch effort to stall the furloughs, a bipartisan group of legislators sent a letter to USCIS on Friday, telling the agency it was solvent and there was no need to make serious cuts to its workforce at this time.