Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Immigration Fee Increases
Most fee waivers for low-income immigrants would have been eliminated under changes
The Department of Homeland Security has said fee increases are needed to shore up the agency that processes most immigration applications.
PHOTO: JACK KURTZ/ZUMA PRESS
Updated Sept. 29, 2020 11:34 pm ET
A federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday temporarily blocked the Trump administration from raising the cost of citizenship and other immigration applications, whose fees were set to increase at the end of the week.
The Department of Homeland Security issued the fee increases in July and said they were intended to help shore up the cash-strapped agency that processes most immigration applications.
Under the proposed fee increases, the cost of a citizenship application would have risen to $1,160 from $640, or more than 80%, and for the first time the U.S. would have charged a fee of $50 to file an asylum application. Most fee waivers for low-income immigrants would have been eliminated under the changes. A group of immigrant-advocacy organizations sued to stop the fee changes.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White of the Northern District of California issued a nationwide preliminary injunction, ruling that allowing the changes to go ahead while the lawsuit continues would irreparably harm immigrants who couldn’t afford the new fees.
“If it takes effect, it will prevent vulnerable and low-income applicants from applying for immigration benefits, block access to humanitarian protections, and will expose populations to further danger,” Judge White, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote.
The fee changes couldn’t stand in part because they were issued by Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, a U.S. judge found.
PHOTO: SHAWN THEW/PRESS POOL
Unless his decision is appealed, the fee increases will remain on hold until the judge reaches a full ruling in the case.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “is reviewing the ruling on the fee rule and has no further comment at this time,” the agency said in a statement. The Department of Homeland Security didn’t return requests for comment.
The government typically raises immigration fees every two to four years to keep pace with inflation and rising costs. But immigrant advocates argued that the Trump administration’s changes were structured in such a way to discourage low-income immigrants from moving to the U.S. or from becoming American citizens.
“When you increase fees so much and you eliminate fee waivers, you’re completely pricing out millions of people from accessing opportunities that Congress wanted them to have,” said Melissa Rodgers, director of programs at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, one of the plaintiffs in the case.
The fee increases were just one in a string of policies the Trump administration has issued that make it tougher for low-income people to immigrate legally. A different policy known as the public-charge rule, which took effect in February, imposes a wealth test on immigrants looking to become legal permanent residents, weighing factors including level of education, English-speaking ability and financial assets. Another policy, which was blocked in court, would have required immigrants coming to the U.S. to demonstrate before being permitted to enter the country that they either have health care or the means to afford it.
Judge White found that the fee changes couldn’t stand in part because they were issued by Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security. The judge agreed with a Government Accountability Office assessment that Mr. Wolf isn’t serving legally in his post.
Judge White is the second federal judge to rule that Mr. Wolf’s appointment was unlawful under the 2002 Homeland Security Act. Separately, a Maryland judge temporarily blocked new asylum rules on a similar basis.
Federal judges can’t practically evict Mr. Wolf from his post, though they can strike down policies he issues on the basis that he doesn’t possess the proper authority to issue them.
Tuesday’s ruling creates new problems for the citizenship and immigration agency, which makes about 97% of its nearly $5 billion annual budget through the fees it collects.
The agency narrowly avoided furloughing about two-thirds of its staff last month after projecting a budget shortfall owing to the coronavirus pandemic and President Trump’s immigration cuts, an issue that will only be exacerbated if it isn’t permitted to raise its fees, The Wall Street Journal has previously reported.
Comments are closed