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Immigration Law

Lawsuit: Rule Imposing High Fees on Immigrants Should Be Set Aside

Public Citizen, Aug. 21, 2020

"A new U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rule will unlawfully force immigrants seeking naturalization, asylum, employment authorization and humanitarian protections to pay high fees, according to a complaint filed by Public Citizen with immigrant advocacy groups Ayuda, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and CASA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The new rule will force asylum-seekers to pay more than $600 to seek protection from harm abroad and the right to work in the U.S. The fee for naturalization will nearly double, to $1,170. Survivors of crime, applying for their children or spouse to avoid extreme hardship, will have to pay $1,485 – more than six times the current fee. Although current law allows indigent immigrants to seek waivers of many unaffordable fees, the new rule eliminates fee waivers in most circumstances. For low-income immigrants, fees can be a barrier to obtaining the right to work, live and become a U.S. citizen.

DHS expects that the new rule will require immigrants to pay a combined total of about $1 billion extra per year to help the agency’s budget. But DHS has not justified its need for so much extra money or committed to using it to improve its processing of immigration applications.

The plaintiffs in the case are Ayuda, CASA and Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. The lawsuit asks the court to set aside the new fee rule on the ground that acting DHS Secretary Chad F. Wolf, who approved it, is ineligible to serve in that position. The complaint also alleges that the rule is based on incomplete and unsupported justifications, violates several provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act and failed to comply with rulemaking requirements.

The complaint filed today amends an existing lawsuit filed by Public Citizen, representing Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, to challenge earlier DHS actions that restrict immigrants’ access to fee waivers.

“DHS’s rule is cruel and unlawful. DHS should not use its budget as an excuse to price immigrants out of the opportunity to receive asylum and citizenship,” said Rebecca Smullin, the Public Citizen attorney representing the plaintiffs.

“The rule plainly seeks to obstruct people from applying for immigration benefits for which they qualify,” said Matt Adams, legal director for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “It violates the required process for implementing new rules and disregards the statutory protections in the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

“This rule represents the latest attack on immigrants seeking the lawful status to which they are entitled,” said Laurie Ball Cooper, legal director for Ayuda. “Wealth cannot and should not be a requirement to access asylum, citizenship and other critical protections in the U.S., nor should immigrants and legal services providers working with them be required to jump through infinite hoops just to access the system.”

“The Trump administration yet again is seeking to marginalize immigrant communities, this time by imposing daunting financial barriers to apply for immigration status,” said Nick Katz, senior manager of legal services at CASA. “Every year, CASA helps hundreds of low-income community members apply for naturalization and provides hundreds more with consultations on a variety of other immigration benefits. Especially now, our members are eager to achieve their dream of citizenship, so they can fully participate in the electoral process and help decide the face of this nation’s leadership.”"