(CNSNews.com) – If President Barack Obama’s immigration plan gets past a federal court injunction, and if 60 percent of illegals apply for deferred action protection under the plan, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency projects that it may have to hire an additional 3,100 employees, with a total program cost of up to $484 million a year.
In a detailed response to questions from Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee about the cost of processing the illegals at a newly rented facility in Arlington, Va., the USCIS said “planning was based on the assumption that 60 percent of all individuals who may be considered for DACA or DAPA would elect to file a request.” (See Responses to Questions from Grassley-Johnson-Sessions 02.26.15 (3).pdf)
“Should that initial planning estimate hold true and the injunction were lifted, USCIS might ultimately need to increase its hiring plan up to a total of 3,100 new employees at an annual cost of $184.3 million, and total program costs of between $324 and $484 million per year,” said the agency in its response to Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
The USCIS is the agency responsible for managing legal immigration to the United States. The president’s executive actions – Deferred Action to Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) – will raise costs for the USCIS as it seeks to process illegal immigrants on top of its regular work.
Grassley, Johnson, and Sessions sent a letter to the USCIS on Jan. 22 asking for cost details of the deferred action programs, particularly in relation to operating a leased building in Arlington, Va., at an estimated cost of $26 million, to house the federal workers and some private contractors who will be hired to process the illegal immigrants.
The USCIS response to the senators, dated Feb. 26, 2015, explains that the Arlington facility is 280,039 sq. ft. with a monthly rent of $647,590. The lease agreement is set to expire in April 2016, and the annual rent for the facility is $7,771,092. (See Responses to Questions from Grassley-Johnson-Sessions 02.26.15 (3).pdf)
The total cost to “set up” the facility is $26,231,296, the response states. This includes $4 million for telephones and electronics; $2.95 million for “infrastructure enhancements”; nearly $2.7 million for desks and workstations; and $1.7 million for “data, voice and video infrastructure.”
It also includes $1.5 million for renovations and furniture; $1.1 million for barcode readers and printers; and $1.2 million for federal guards.
The agency noted in its response that it expects to spend an additional $21 million on salaries and benefits for the roughly 1,000 additional employees needed to staff the facility. This is on top of the nearly $5.6 million it would spend on background checks; $105,000 for drug testing; and $775,000 on travel and materials for immigration officer training.
The agency would also need to hire about 400 more employees to help implement the expansion of the President’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), the letter stated.
However, the agency warned that the costs could more than triple over time if a federal court injunction issued on Feb. 17, which temporarily halted the president’s executive actions, is overturned.
“Should that initial planning estimate hold true and the injunction were lifted, USCIS might ultimately need to increase its hiring plan up to a total of 3,100 new employees at an annual cost of $184.3 million, and total program costs of between $324 and $484 million per year,” the agency said.
Top officials for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed to members of Congress on Tuesday, March 3, that a “very little” $11 million out of the $26 million total has already been spent on the Arlington location.
Because of the court injunction, the facility now sits empty and unused, but continues to cost the agency more nearly $650,000 in monthly rent.
During the hearing, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) asked Joseph Moore, USCIS Chief Financial Officer, “How much has been expended to date on the Crystal City amnesty processing center?”
“Senator, we’ve spent very little in total,” Moore claimed. “We’ve spent, preparing the program, we’ve spent $11 million in total. That includes the, uh, the lease for the Crystal City facility, which was around $7 million.”
“And are those payments ongoing?” Cruz asked.
“The rent payments, the monthly rent payments, are ongoing because of the terms of the lease agreement,” Moore said.
“And is that facility just empty right now?” asked Cruz.
“Yes, that facility is basically empty, not being used,” Moore said.
Cruz also asked Moore whether the agency plans to use the facility, which Moore estimates to be a “couple hundred thousand square feet,” to process lawful immigrants who are currently awaiting processing.
“And that facility is not being used to carry out USCIS’s statutory mandate of processing legal immigrants who are following the rules, correct?” Cruz said.
Moore responded, “No.”
Dan Renaud, associate director, Field Operations Directorate, told committee members that USCIS is “assessing” whether to use the currently vacant facility to process the backlog of applications for legal immigrants.
“USCIS is assessing, given that we’ve spent 90 days trying to, uh, working very diligently to build the capacity in that center to process Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and LPR requests, and we’re only two weeks or so into an injunction, we are at a point where we’re reassessing whether … the extent to which that center will relieve some of the pressures that we see from both a facility standpoint and a workload standpoint at our other centers,” Renaud said, adding that “the decision is ongoing” and that the “center remains empty the way we found it.”
The USCIS began advertising 1,000 new job openings to staff the Arlington facility on Dec. 1, where the “initial workload will include cases filed as a result of the executive actions on immigration announced on Nov. 20, 2014.”
Renaud told Congress that only two people had been hired to work at the Crystal City facility, but were reassigned following the court injunction.
Circumventing Congress, President Obama announced his unilateral DAPA program, along with plans to expand the already-existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), last November.
The DAPA program would offer temporary amnesty to as many as 5 million illegal aliens, while also granting them the right to legally work in the United States and obtain Social Security Numbers.
The USCIS has estimated that as many as 3 million eligible DAPA recipients, roughly 60 percent of the total 5 million, will apply for the program within the first two years.