USCIS: Immigration agency awaits “a real challenge”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the first stop for people applying for a green card, citizenship or refugee status. The agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, will be on the front line of President Obama's executive action, which could give legal status to an estimated 4 million undocumented people.

Stephen Legomsky, chief counsel for USCIS in the first days of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, says that order was a "heavy lift" for the agency because it meant "training the adjudicators, hiring them, and finding physical space for them." And USCIS will again have its work cut out because of the scale of the new program, says Ben Johnson, director of the American Immigration Council.

One thing the agency will not need is money from Congress. USCIS is funded through the fees it collects, which means Congress cannot defund it as a way of blocking the president's order. Johnson, though, says congressional Republicans can still make it difficult for the agency.

"The fact that they are going to have to figure out how to do this without the support of Congress is going to pose serious challenges for them," says Johnson. "The fact, quite frankly, that they are probably doing it with Congress trying to do everything they can to frustrate the process," will make that challenge even greater, he says.

One thing that made the DACA process easier for applicants was the help of legal services and immigrant advocacy groups to guide them through the process, says Hines of the University of Texas. She says that outside help will again be necessary for the new actions to succeed. "Hopefully there will be enough free legal services providers and free clinics to assist families to process the application. Because there is an application and there will be required documents that families will have to gather in order to qualify."

USCIS says it will begin accepting applications for the expanded DACA program in 90 days, with other programs starting after that.

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