Proposed Immigration Fee Increases Favor the Wealthy, Diminishing Opportunities for Asylum-Seekers and DACA Recipients
THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Holly Straut-Eppsteiner
DECEMBER 17, 2019
A new set of fee increases proposed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the latest tactic by the Trump administration to fundamentally alter our immigration system to favor wealthy people.
Under USCIS’s proposed regulations, people fleeing violence and persecution would have to pay a fee — $50 — simply to apply for asylum. Family members of immigrants with U visas (crime survivors) would be charged $1,515 for their petitions to immigrate, a more than 500 percent increase. Fees to apply for U.S. citizenship would increase 83 percent, to $1,170, and the cost of renewing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) would increase by 55 percent, to $765. These fee increases fly in the face of longstanding policies not to charge for asylum application processing and to keep other immigration applications affordable, sending a clear message: The United States is closed to people who can’t afford to pay.
These fee increases could significantly harm immigrant youth with DACA. DACA doesn’t provide permanent lawful status; it must be renewed every two years. As a result, DACA recipients must continually pay the high renewal fees every two years in order to retain their work authorization and protection from being deported. Until Congress acts to provide permanent protections for this population, immigrant youth will rely on DACA, and we know that DACA allows recipients to thrive. DACA is associated with improved mobility pathways through the access it provides to higher education, better jobs, increased wages, credit, and improved financial positions. These new fees may block some recipients from being able to renew their DACA and cut off this crucial pathway to opportunity for immigrant youth and their families. In fact, past research has shown that the present cost of applying for and getting DACA already presents barriers for immigrant youth and their families.
Many young people who’ve applied for DACA come from low-income backgrounds. Research shows that DACA recipients already struggle to pay the present, lower fees, that not being able to afford the fees has delayed renewals, and that lack of affordability has prevented some people from applying or renewing at all. In addition to having to pay the fees, many DACA recipients retain paid legal assistance to submit renewal applications. We know that participation in DACA is lower in communities that have high unemployment and low levels of economic opportunity. In other words, the people who have the most to gain from DACA may be prevented from accessing its benefits because of these exorbitant fees.
Another troubling aspect of the new rule is its plan to bypass Congress and transfer more than $112 million in USCIS fees to fund U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for detaining and deporting hundreds of thousands of migrants every year. This means that the same fees paid by DACA recipients, asylum-seekers, and other petitioners would be used to pay for enforcement against their undocumented family members. A recent survey found that more than two-thirds of DACA recipients think at least once a day about a family member being detained or deported.
Fortunately, this rule is not yet in effect, and there’s still time to try to prevent it from taking effect. As part of the federal rulemaking process, USCIS must take into consideration the voices of concerned individuals who submit public comments through its portal. You can submit a comment through December 30 on the Regulations.gov website.
Holly Straut-Eppsteiner is NILC’s Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow and research program manager.