By Elizabeth Murphy
"It's an unprecedented weaponization of government fees" - Doug Rand, Obama White House official and co-founder of Boundless Immigration Service
Alongside restrictions instituted in October that limit the number of refugees entering the United States to a record low of 18,000, the administration of US President Donald Trump intends to both increase existing fees and create new fees for immigration processes. On November 8, 2019, Trump proposed an 83% increase in fees associated with naturalization forms, making access to citizenship cost $1,170 rather than $640 (CNN) The administration also aims to introduce a $50 application fee for asylum seekers, which is not common practice internationally. Furthermore, the White House plans to increase fees for 2-year legal permit renewal of DACA recipients. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, or DACA, provides legal protection for children who immigrated to the United States illegally (Wall Street Journal). In order to continue to receive legal protection, DACA recipients will now need to pay $270 biennially (Wall Street Journal). Lastly, work permits for immigrants, including DACA recipients, asylum seekers, and those with temporary protected status, will increase in price from $410 to $490. Should these fees be approved, there will be heightened barriers to legal immigration based on wealth.
Arguably the most troubling of the proposed fee changes is the application fee for asylum seekers in the United States. Should the US adopt these fees, they would become one of only four countries to charge for humanitarian protection, alongside Iran, Fiji, and Australia. Jessica Bolter, an associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, argues that many countries do not adopt asylum fees because of "recognition that it's more important to protect someone from persecution than it is to receive payment for the services you are providing” (CBS)
Most immigration processes are under the purview of the US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), who face issues of both backlog and financial deficits due to the Trump administration’s changes to immigration policies, including increased screenings (Wall Street Journal). USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli stated: “USCIS is required to examine incoming and outgoing expenditures, just like a business, and make adjustments based on that analysis. This proposed adjustment in fees would ensure more applicants cover the true cost of their applications and minimizes subsidies from an already over-extended system” (CNN) However, in saying this, Cuccinelli fails to recognize that by adding fees to asylum applications, the USCIS is effectively limiting access to legal immigration of individuals and families who face persecution in their home countries. By definition, these people are considered of equal status to refugees, though they are in the country in which they intend to seek protection from conflict or violence rather than a refugee camp or other UN institutions. Political discourse often abandons this aspect of their identities, and often equates them with other migrants, which undermines their identities as vulnerable populations.
Melissa Rodgers, the director of programs for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, calls these changes a “part and parcel of the assault on the naturalization process” (Wall Street Journal) This assault has been an ongoing feature of the Trump administration in which they relentlessly work to block immigration of those Trump deems “undesirable.” The most visible form of Trump’s anti-immigration policies is his ‘wall’ on the US-Mexico border intended to block Central and South American migrants from entering the United States. These newly proposed laws, like Trump’s other immigration policies, will disproportionately affect migrants who have come to the United States in search of livelihood and safety, many of whom are eligible for asylum status. Furthermore, these fees cannot be waived under the new policies, regardless of whether or not the individual is below the poverty line and dependent on public services. This further impedes migrants who struggle with poverty from obtaining legal status or becoming citizens, leaving them unprotected by the government and vulnerable to exploitation.
The Trump administration intends for revenue from these fee increases to be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a government organization known for its violent practices towards migrants. This brutality includes negligence in detention centre management leading to the death of multiple detainees, including at least seven children, as well as their facilitation of family separation practices. According to CBS News, these fees, amounting to $207 million, will be used for “worksite enforcement, a crackdown on visa overstays, a denaturalization campaign and investigations of potential immigration fraud” (CBS). In sum, the fees collected from immigration processes, which will disproportionately harm impoverished migrants and otherwise vulnerable people, will bolster the organization that targets and inflicts violence on these very populations.
On November 14th, these proposed fee policies were published in the Federal Register. This marks the beginning of a 30-day review period in which the proposed fees will be open to public opinion, in which it is crucial that Americans voice their thoughts on the matter.
US citizens can call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to speak to their congressional representatives.
Alvarez, Priscilla. “Trump Administration Proposes Charging for Asylum Applications, Joining Only 3 Other Countries.” CNN, Cable News Network, 8 Nov. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/11/08/politics/asylum-fee-uscis/index.html.
Hackman, Michelle, and Alicia A. Caldwell. “Trump Administration Proposes Increasing Fee for U.S. Citizenship Application.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 9 Nov. 2019, www.wsj.com/articles/trump-administration-proposes-increasing-fee-for-u-s-citizenship-application-11573255094.
Montoya-Galvez, Camilo. “U.S. Seeks to Hike Fees for Immigration Applications and Impose First-Ever Asylum Charge.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 9 Nov. 2019, www.cbsnews.com/news/u-s-seeks-to-hike-fees-for-immigration-applications-and-impose-first-ever-asylum-charge/.
Pompa, Cynthia. “Immigrant Kids Keep Dying in CBP Detention Centers, and DHS Won't Take Accountability.” American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union, 25 June 2019, www.aclu.org/blog/immigrants-rights/immigrants-rights-and-detention/immigrant-kids-keep-dying-cbp-detention.
United Nations. “Asylum-Seekers.” UNHCR, www.unhcr.org/asylum-seekers.html.