Vulnerable immigrant communities are under attack in the United States.
The Trump administration has proposed policies that will slap a series of fees on Philadelphia’s immigrants, and then use the revenue generated to fund the detainment and deportation system striking fear in communities of immigrants across the country.
These fee increases and proposed elimination of fee waivers have real consequences for Philadelphia’s immigrants like the clients our team at HIAS Pennsylvania serves every day.
Immigrant populations throughout the United States are being dealt a harsh blow by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) through a regressive tax on immigrants, refugees, and asylees. The proposed fee schedule – which was published and opened to public comment on Nov. 14 – would eliminate fee waivers, exorbitantly raise required filing fees for naturalization and various forms of immigration relief, and make the United States one of only four countries in the world to charge people for seeking asylum.
Prioritizing enforcement over integration for immigrants in what is arguably an unconstitutional end run around Congress, the increased revenue generated through these changes will be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), rather than just going toward streamlining application processing times.
This racist, classist policy disguised as a budget is a blatantly political strategy to prevent immigrants from accessing rights awarded with citizenship. By raising naturalization fees by 83%, but decreasing green card renewal fees by 9%, the administration is encouraging legal permanent residents to remain at their current immigration status indefinitely, which would prevent them from accessing federal aid for college, petitioning for relatives abroad, and voting against President Donald Trump in the next election.
One of the extremely vulnerable asylees we serve at HIAS PA arrived in the United States after fleeing the Ethiopian civil war. He was granted asylum, received his green card, and then was diagnosed with diabetes and placed on dialysis. Unable to work and with no family to support him, he relies on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to pay his rent. With his SSI recently cut off, he will need to naturalize to regain his primary source of income.
While under the current policy a fee waiver could cover the costs of applying for citizenship, the proposed rule change eliminates the waiver and would require him to pay $1,170 – almost two months of SSI payments. This policy is taking a stable member of our community and creating an unstable, crisis situation.
The largest fee increase is for victims of crime. Crime victims who seek to bring over qualifying family members must pay 559% more to get the support they desperately need. Imagine being drugged, abused, and prostituted, escaping, cooperating with police to bring your trafficker to justice, and then, alone and traumatized, needing more than $1,500 to bring over a beloved family member to help you start your life over again.
As indicated above, the proposed rule would also introduce a $50 asylum application fee. USCIS claims the fee would “alleviate the pressure” on the backlog of asylum applications, giving employees more time and resources to perform other immigration duties. However, many people fleeing extreme situations and seeking asylum do not have $50 to spare.
Two important proposed fee hikes — increasing by more than 150% — also require immigrants to pay to get their day in court. If immigrants feel they had an unfair hearing, they will have to pay an exorbitant sum to appeal. If these proposed hikes go into effect, low-income immigrants who don’t have the means to pay for a hearing or for their deportation to be suspended could be disenfranchised or deported.
Ramrodding the establishment of this proposal through the government, this proposed fee hike is open to comments for only 46 days rather than the normal 60-day period.
This proposed fee hike could have deadly consequences. Don’t let the fear win. The public has until Dec. 30 to submit comments about the proposed rule change.
We encourage all to submit a unique comment via the USCIS website; the more unique comments the government receives, the more difficult it will be to move forward with implementing the rule.
For more information about the rule and about how to write a comment, visit the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) website: https://cliniclegal.org/fee-schedule-changes.
Cathryn Miller-Wilson is executive director of HIAS Pennsylvania.