The government has found something to do with a $7.8 million building sitting mostly unused in Arlington because of legal setbacks to President Obama’s immigration plans: the facility will be used for other immigration programs.
The 11-story structure in the Crystal City area was intended to be the working home for Obama’s executive action potentially shielding millions of illegal immigrants from deportation, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.
One day after Obama took his actions on Nov. 20, 2014, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services leased the 280,000-square-foot building on Crystal Drive to house most of the 3,100 new employees projected to eventually be needed for the new immigration program and another the president announced the same day. Leased for $7.8 million a year, the building came fully furnished but required about $26 million in start-up costs, documents show.
But since a federal judge temporarily blocked the new program in February, the facility has only been used for occasional employee training on the first floor, Department of Homeland Security employees say. Citizenship and Immigration Services is part of DHS.
Now, with the legal fight stretching on, DHS has decided to use the Crystal City edifice as a general service center for all citizenship and immigration services programs not blocked by the federal injunction, officials said Wednesday.
Shin Inouye, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the new Potomac Service Center will house about 750 employees and will supplement existing service centers in California, Texas, Nebraska and Vermont that are at “maximum capacity.” Citizenship and Immigration Services is central to managing the nation’s immigration system and processes more than 6 million citizenship and other applications and petitions each year.
The new facility, expected to begin operating by late August, is not open to the public. Officials said they are now proceeding with hiring for the center, which will be funded through fees collected from immigrants who file applications.
Obama announced in November that up to 5 million illegal immigrants would be eligible to be shielded from deportation — including undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents — as long as they met certain criteria. The plan, one of the signature initiatives of his presidency, also expands a 2012 program that has deferred the deportations of more than 600,000 immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children and has granted most of them work permits.
But after Texas and 25 other states sued the administration over the moves, a federal judge in Texas in February put them on hold until the case is resolved. A federal appeals court recently upheld that injunction, with legal observers now saying the court fight could last until late in Obama’s term. The 2012 program remains unaffected.
DHS officials and the White House have said they are confident the administration will prevail in the court battle. If that happens, it remains unclear if the new Crystal City service center could still be used to process DAPA applications or if another facility would be needed.