By Mark Brunswick
Bowing to pressure, the federal government is reversing a plan to move a vital immigration office to the outskirts of Bloomington, three miles from the closest bus stop.
In a rare case where it admitted to making a mistake, the General Services Administration will move other government services to the new building and keep its U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices at its current location near the Mall of America and near mass transit.
The plan to move the immigration office became the subject of intense criticism from local elected officials and immigration advocates, concerned that the new location would make it difficult for many immigrants to obtain the services they need for such things as work visas and citizenship papers.
“This is what everyone wanted,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who coordinated several meetings with federal authorities and immigration advocates. “The people we are talking about are not hiding from the law. They are working with our immigration services and doing exactly what they are supposed to do, and they are supposed to somehow get there when they don’t have a car. It makes no sense at all.”
After the initial decision was announced, Klobuchar peppered the heads of various agencies about the planned move, including, most recently, the new head of Homeland Security. Several members of the state’s congressional delegation urged the feds to put the brakes on the plan. But throughout the process, the GSA appeared unlikely to reverse its course. Its latest suggestion had been to start a shuttle service from the closest bus stop to the building.
The announcement that it was abandoning the building for the immigration services came as a shock.
In violation of its own policies that require easy access to public transportation, the new building was to be three miles from the closest bus stop. The GSA has admitted it misread a bus schedule in reviewing applications. What it thought was a bus route for new location was really a commuter line without regular stops.
The 10-year, $14.3 million contract had been signed and the move was expected in September for the former site of the Minnesota School of Business on Ensign Avenue in Bloomington, near the Eden Prairie border.
The GSA will now rebid the contract for the immigration offices, with the clear stipulation that the building be within a half-mile of a rail or bus stop. Employees from other government agencies that do not require as much personal contact with the public will be filtered in to the new building.
Meantime, the immigration offices will remain in its current location on Metro Drive near the Mall of America.
“In my line of work, there’s not that many all-out wins. This is an all-out win,” Klobuchar said.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in Bloomington is the face-to-face field location where immigrants go for interviews, to pick up forms, and to ask general questions about their resident status. Last year it saw about 28,000 people who scheduled interviews, used its information center, or came to pick up citizenship certificates. It processed more than 13,000 applications for naturalization in 2013.
It serves all of Minnesota and the Dakotas and a large swath of western Wisconsin.
The office handles more cases than its more visible law enforcement counterparts, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Immigration Court, both of which are moving to renovated offices at the Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building near Fort Snelling.