As negotiations in Congress stall, it appears very likely that there will be a federal government shutdown. What would a shut down mean for immigration cases? Here is a summary of the best information we have available.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): USCIS is funded by the (large) application filing fees that it charges. For that reason it should continue to operate as normal even in the event of a shut down. The only exception to this is supposed to be the E-Verify program, which is used by some employers to screen employment authorization. It is also possible that there will be a delay in USCIS accepting new applications. That is because the mail acceptance facility (called the Lock Box) is actually run by independent private contractors. Some government contractors will be halted by the government shutdown. The Lock Box should not be impacted since it is ultimately funded by filing fees, but we highlight this as one possible problem area.
- Department of State (DOS): Like applications before USCIS,visa and passport operations are funded by filing fees. For that reason they should continue to be processed. However, other aspects of DOS are funded through the budget. Because overall operations of DOS would be impacted by a shutdown, it is quite possible that visa processing could be delayed or even halted altogether.
- Customs and Border Protection (CBP): CBP will continue normal operations at ports of entry (land crossings and airports). This is because CBP is considered an essential law enforcement agency. It is possible, however, that application processing by CBP will be delayed. This would impact applications, such as those for TN visas, that are submitted at the border.
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): ICE will continue its normal investigation and deportation work. Immigration prosecutors, however, will be impacted by the court shutdown as described below.
- Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR – “immigration court”): In-custody (“detained”) cases should continue to be processed as normal. We are seeing mixed messages, however, about non-detaiend cases. The national office of the American Immigration Lawyers Association reports that non-detained cases continued to be processed in the last government shutdown (2013). But other lawyers report that some immigration courts shut altogether. Lawyers and individual respondents should prepare to have their case to proceed as scheduled unless specifically told otherwise.