What happens when you make applying for immigration benefits much more difficult, spend more and more time looking for reasons to deny applications, make the consequences of denial go from having the option to reapply to going straight into deportation proceedings, and stop taking applications for certain types of applications? Oh – and add a pandemic, too.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the outcome of all of this is a severe drop in immigration applications and fees for USCIS. On June 29th, USCIS notified over 70% of their employees that they would have to take at least 30 days of unpaid leave and possibly up to three months of unpaid leave. Leave is expected to start on August 3rd.

USCIS is self-funded. That is, it receives its money from the fees associated with various immigration filings. When filings go down, USCIS loses money. In its announcement, USCIS blames the drop in filings on the pandemic, but there are many reasons why this agency has lost millions over the last few years. The process has become increasingly risky and cumbersome and fewer people want to apply right now. For example, a standard marriage-based green card application in our office went from being about 75 pages to over 200 pages thanks to the public charge rule that began in February this year.

We have also seen the number of cases we file decline in this administration because USCIS has a culture of “no” right now – they are looking for any possible to way to deny a case. Did you forget to include photographs of your wedding? Denied. Did you not put “N/A” in every single empty box on your application? Rejected. Are you the elderly parent of a US citizen? Denied.

It’s only going to get worse before it gets better. Having fewer officers means that decisions will take longer and longer. We have already seen adjudication times double or triple. We may now be looking at a work card taking a year to get approved, whereas it used to take three months. Immigrants and their families – who are all doing this the right way – will remain in limbo indefinitely. I honestly don’t know what to tell clients when they ask how long their case will take. It’s not helpful for me to say something like “between five months and three years.”

There are good people who work at USCIS and they deserve better than this. I’ve been going to the Atlanta Field Office for over a decade and have had the honor of meeting with USCIS leadership in Washington, DC on several occasions. While administrations, priorities and policies change, I have come to know and respect many of these USCIS employees. They deserve better, too.

We all deserve better. We deserve a system that works.

-Tracie