USCIS to staff up in light of Obama’s immigration reform decision

After President Barack Obama announced his executive decision regarding immigration reform – to temporarily protect some 5 million from deportation – undocumented immigrants across the country celebrated the historic success. Now that the news has settled in, it’s time to start preparing for the increase in applications from those looking to defer deportation.

According to The New York Times, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency is seeking 1,000 new employees to handle cases filed as a result of Obama’s executive action regarding immigration reform. These employees will work in an office setting, processing cases for thousands of undocumented immigrants who qualify for deportation protection. The positions being filled include special assistants, management program analysts and immigration services officers. These jobs are full-time, with some being permanent federal positions and others contracted. Depending on the grade level of the position, salaries will range from as low as $34,415 per year for immigration services officers up to $157,000 a year for top-level supervisors.

USCIS will open a new operational center in Crystal City, a community in Arlington, Virginia, to house these workers. The cost to lease the building is expected to cost almost $8 million a year, while the wave of hiring will cost more than $40 million per year for annual salaries. As agency officials told The New York Times, the fees are not yet being collected to cover these costs. The initial salary and lease payments will come from other sources and be replenished once the new program is running smoothly.

USCIS director León Rodríguez stated during a speech in Los Angeles on Dec. 15 that some 5,000 applications for these jobs have already been received. The employees will begin to move into the offices in January and will start accepting applications for immigration deferment as early as spring 2015.

Will USCIS be prepared?
Many immigration reform advocates are praising this call for employees to support the executive action, and the town of Arlington, Virginia, is celebrating the addition of 1,000 jobs to its economy. However, some are concerned about the speed with which the USCIS agency has begun hiring to accommodate the expected rush of applications. As Ken Palinkas, head of the USCIS employees’ labor union, told The Washington Times, the process is time-consuming and requires not only background checks but also security checks, in some cases.

“I can’t see how they could,” Palinkas said. “I think what they’re leaning toward is just getting the paperwork done regardless of who does it. You have to vet these people.”

Another expert on the subject, Louis D. Crocetti Jr., former head of the USCIS fraud unit before he retired in 2011, claimed that the process to hire and train staff would take around one year.

“I don’t see how they could possibly recruit, hire, screen, go through all the national security background checks and train everyone within six months,” Crocetti, said. “That would be a very, very steep challenge, one that could only result in consequences of poorly trained staff.”

Despite such criticism, it remains undeniable that more employees will be required to ensure each application is fairly reviewed. In a USCIS statement, the agency explained that this large wave of hiring is an effort to get operations in order for when it starts accepting applications related to Obama’s immigration action in spring 2015.

“Increasing staffing will ensure that every case received by USCIS receives a thorough review under our guidelines,” the agency stated.