(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) joined Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), and Norma Torres (D-CA), along with 80 other Members of Congress, in sending a letter to the heads of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) demanding that they abandon plans to hike up USCIS application fees.
The Members' letter also protests the shortened public comment period for the fee hikes, which allots only 32 days for comments as opposed to the usual 60 days.
Last Thursday, the Trump Administration proposed exorbitant increases in application costs that may lead to scenarios in which individuals may not be able to maintain or obtain legal status or apply for naturalization. The proposal includes:
Raising the naturalization application fee from $640 to $1,170.
Raising fees associated with lawful permanent residency from $1,220 to $2,195.
Raising the fee for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewals from $495 to $765.
Creating a $50 fee for individuals to apply for asylum and requiring them to pay $490 for employment authorization while their asylum case is pending.
Eliminating fee waivers for naturalization, lawful permanent residence, employment authorization, and other applications.
Increasing fee rates to recover the cost of using Immigration Examinations Fee Account funds to support Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operations.
"With this proposal, the administration is trying to engineer the racial and economic makeup of the United States and it must be withdrawn," said Susan Collins, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA). "The National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) and our members across the country will fight with Congresswoman Meng and the other Members of Congress who signed this letter to stop the draft rule in its tracks and ensure fair and equal access to U.S. citizenship and our immigration system."
“The proposed fee increase on DACA renewal applications would place a financial burden on thousands of teachers across the country, including the nearly 300 DACAmented educators in the Teach For America network,” said Jose Gonzalez Camarena, Senior Managing Director, Teach For America DACA Initiative. “For teachers early in their careers who are also enrolled in certification and graduate programs as part of their commitment to providing an excellent education to their students, a fee increase of this magnitude jeopardizes their ability to submit renewal applications in a timely manner. The proposed fee increase can therefore lead to gaps in employment eligibility which have the potential to disrupt and have significant adverse implications for the education of thousands of students.”
A copy of the letter can be viewed here, and the text of the correspondence is below.
Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Director Cuccinelli:
We write to express our strong objections to the above-referenced proposed rule posted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and to the unusual and unreasonable 32-day comment period. We respectfully request that you withdraw this rule and instead work with Congress to determine how to better address the funding requirements for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) activities.
As currently drafted, the proposal would inevitably price out hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people from obtaining citizenship and other immigration benefits for which they qualify, based solely on their inability to afford these unreasonably high fees.
The following represent some of the most objectionable provisions in the proposal that would undermine fair and equitable access to our immigration system by:
dramatically raising filing fees for naturalization forms by as much as 389 percent in some cases, and specifically raising the naturalization application (Form N-400) fee by 83 percent, from $640 to $1,170, undermining the special consideration that obtaining U.S. citizenship deserves;
eliminating fee waivers for naturalization, lawful permanent residence, employment authorization, and other applications, placing such benefits out of reach of those who are eligible but face financial hardship;
charging, for the first time, those seeking asylum a $50 fee to apply and further require them to pay $490 for employment authorization while their asylum case is pending;
raising the fee for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewals from $495 to $765, adding yet another obstacle to lawful status for young immigrants; and,
increasing fee rates to recover the cost of using Immigration Examinations Fee Account funds to support Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operations
If the rule were to go into effect, the exorbitant fee increases would serve as a barrier to citizenship, lawful permanent residence, asylum, DACA, employment authorization, and numerous other benefits, and disproportionately restrict access to working class, low-income, elderly, and other immigrants who would otherwise be able to apply. Further, raising fees in order to cover the costs of ICE investigative operations is unacceptable. This is another example of DHS needlessly increasing fee rates as a cruel means to prevent would-be applicants from applying for benefits and diverting discretionary funding towards the unnecessary expansion of border wall and increasing the inhumane and costly detention of people in ICE detention centers.
Given that the proposed fee increases are unprecedently high and have the potential to fundamentally restrict access to our immigration system, we are also perplexed that the agency is breaking from its historic practice of allowing a 60-day comment period. The legal community, service providers, employers, and community-based organizations will need sufficient time to review, evaluate, and comment on the potential impact on the people they support, employ, and serve. By allotting only 32 days for comment, the agency is sending the message that it is unconcerned about the impact of its proposal on this country. As members of Congress who represent the broad spectrum of USCIS customers and other stakeholders who would be impacted by this rule and who are charged with oversight of DHS and its agencies, this is absolutely unacceptable.
Based on the serious concerns we raise above and the danger that fast-tracking this proposal would impose on applicants, we respectfully urge you to withdraw this rule and work with Congress to address any demonstrated funding shortfalls USCIS may have. We also urge you to reduce application backlogs and delays and improve customer service in ways that do not discriminate against the working class, low income applicants and others who face financial hardships. The American dream should be available to all those who aspire to it, regardless of income or wealth.
Thank you for your attention on this time-sensitive matter. Due to the short comment period and urgency of this matter, we look forward to hearing from you by Friday, November 22, 2019.