How Does the Shutdown Affect Immigration?

The government shutdown that began Friday at midnight will affect the administration of immigration law, but not as much as some might expect. Because US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is funded by fees and not money from Congress, many self-sufficient immigration functions will continue unaffected. Essentially, self-contained actions will continue, but if an immigration action requires the participation of another department, it could face delays. 

Passport and green card processing will continue, but E-Verify, the mechanism used to confirm that employees are authorized to work in the U.S., will not. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection will both continue largely unaffected because they are considered essential functions. 

Immigration functions that rely on other agencies or are in part paid for by budgeted money could be affected.The State Department will process U.S. visa applications and U.S. Consulates and Embassies will remain open, but they may close if the shutdown goes on too long. The same is true for Immigration courts. Work visas that rely on Department of Labor approval including H-1Bs processing and applications for permanent labor certification will be affected because the department is closed by the shutdown.

As Dara Lind points out at Vox.com:

while the US Refugee Admissions Program isn’t technically subject to shutdown, the Obama administration stopped bringing refugees to the US during the 2013 shutdown anyway, because of the anticipated difficulty getting Social Security cards and other vital resources to refugees once they arrived in the United States.

The shutdown was brought about by President Trump’s decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) protection last September and efforts by the Democrats to hold him and Republicans to their word that they wanted to help these people lies at the heart of the shutdown. Ironically, DACA renewal processing continues since District Court Judge William Alsup ordered the government to do so earlier this month. 

The bottom line is that most self-contained immigration-related actions will continue during the shutdown, but even those will be affected, if only due to staffing reductions. Actions that involve departments reliant on the government for financial support will likely be delayed. If you’re not sure how your matters will be affected, contact an immigration attorney who can help you better understand the path ahead.

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