How the Shutdown Affects Immigration

Immigration, like every government function during the shutdown, will be detrimentally affected: An estimated 800,000 to 1 million federal employees will be furloughed, and there is no aspect of government that will completely escape this. The broad range of government activities that will be slowed or temporarily ended by the shutdown is not entirely understood since it has not happened since the '90s. What is known, however, is that every basic function will be affected, from the military which will have delayed pay, to the national parks that will close. Looking to immigration, while there is an immediate material affect of fewer workers or certain visa applications being delayed, the longer-lasting effect may be a more subtle political one.

The first noticeable affect of the shutdown will be a delay in case processing. Most of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (92 percent) will be kept on since it is not funded by Congress. Similarly, most of the Department of Homeland Security (86 percent) will stay on: They are considered "essential, and would remain on the job for the "safety of human life or protection of property." This means that immigrants can still be arrested and deported during the shutdown.

Immigration courts, however, depend on other parts of the government to function, and so some slowdown would be unavoidable; how much exactly, we will find out as we go. Other services, such as visa applications from overseas, will likely be suspended, and immigration certifications from the Department of Labor would likely be delayed. E-Verify, the program businesses use to check the immigration status of a worker, will be put on hold.

The bigger story, however, is the political affect that this poorly-timed political stunt will have. Immigration reform, after being derailed by the GOP-controlled House, is starting to pick up a bit of momentum as a comprehensive bill, as well as smaller piecemeal bills. As of right now, Congress only has 30 days left on the calendar before they take their recess in December, at which point the momentum for reform will be put on hold again. Considering how it was a six-month process involving many players from the AFLCIO to the Chamber of Commerce lending leverage to bring the Gang of 8 bill through the Senate and to the House, 30 days is difficult, but very theoretically possible.

With the debt ceiling coming up to distract the 24-hour news cycle and public yet again, as well as other issues like gun reform clamoring for attention after another recent shooting, immigration reform will have a difficult time cutting in. While there is momentum for change motivating people like Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) now, we need to make sure that this momentum is not lost between competing issues and the congressional calendar.