By Martha Laura Garcia-Izaguirre, Supervising Attorney
On November 14th, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has a new proposed fee schedule for at least ten different petitions, including citizenship, DACA, work permits, and asylum. Under federal law, USCIS is required to review its fees every two years, but the revision proposed is an unprecedented increase compared to previous revisions. For example, USCIS is proposing to increase the cost of the citizenship application by 83% from $640 to $1,170. To put this into perspective, the last time USCIS increased the cost of the citizenship application, in 2016, it increased from $595 to $640. Additionally, not only is USCIS proposing to increase fees, it intends to start charging asylum-seekers for the application. Until now filing an asylum petition was free, but this proposal makes the U.S. one of four countries world-wide to charge asylum-seekers a fee to merely apply for asylum. This change sends a clear message to potential asylum-seekers and the world that the U.S. does not welcome them and is not interested in providing them protection.
USCIS alleges increasing the cost of certain petitions and adding a cost to other petitions was necessary in order to meet the increasing costs of adjudicating petitions, vetting applicants, and detecting fraud. USCIS is one of the few government agencies that is fee-funded and these fee payments make up 96% of their budget. USCIS backs this increase by stating that without such a revision, the agency would be underfunded by approximately $1.3 billion per year.
However, what USCIS failed to state in its proposal is that in the Department of Homeland Security’s 2020 budget, the Administration will transfer $207.6M in fee payments from USCIS to ICE to be used for immigration enforcement purposes. In other words, those who are able to pay these exuberant fees will essentially be paying ICE to carry out enforcement operations within and against their very own communities.
This fee revision represents a threat to immigrant communities nationwide and signals to immigrant and immigration advocates that the Administration is committed to alienating and ostracizing immigrants within the U.S. On the one hand, immigrants who are eligible for relief, but unable to pay USCIS’ excessive fees, will be forced to remain targets of ICE enforcement operations. On the other hand, those who can afford to pay will be directly contributing to the destruction of immigrant communities because their payments will be transferred to ICE for enforcement purposes. There is no win for the our communities under this proposed fee schedule.