Pay Your Way into the USA: DHS’s proposed fee increases create an immigration “wealth test”

Would you pass the federal administration’s wealth test? Here’s what you need to know and how you can help.

The federal administration is trying to make it harder for people who are not affluent to enter the United States or obtain citizenship by instituting a “wealth test” to limit immigration.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to eliminate fee waivers for citizenship, lawful permanent residency, employment authorization, and many other applications to make it harder for immigrants who may work low-wage jobs to obtain legal status.

DHS has proposed increasing the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) fees by an average 21 percent, adding new fees for certain requests, creating multiple fees for petitions for nonimmigrant workers, and limiting the number of beneficiaries that can be put on specific forms – essentially limiting entry only to moneyed individuals!

The federal administration is trying to justify these increases by claiming that current fees do not cover the full costs of services – despite raising fees continuously over the years. In 2016, the fee for an application for naturalization increased from $595 to $640. Now DHS wants to increase it to a staggering $1,170. This is a strikingly large 83 percent increase since 2016!

The Trump administration is also targeting young adults whose only home they know is the United States! DHS has proposed to increase fees for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients from $495 to $765, a 55 percent increase. DHS also wants to add a $275 renewal fee for DACA recipients.

Included in the federal administration sights are asylum seekers fleeing persecution. DHS is proposing a $50 charge for affirmative asylum and a $490 fee for an employment authorization document (EAD), also known as a work permit, for individuals with pending asylum cases. As a norm, asylum applications have been free, without the exception of lawyer fees if one chooses to be represented. Many asylum seekers make a dangerous long trip to flee persecution and may not have money to pay these fees.

Morally, this is wrong. Using increased fees to institute a system where individuals have to buy entry in our country is disastrous public policy. The increased fees disregard life circumstances and overlook immigrants who may work low-wage jobs who want to come to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their families. Just as the public charge rule does, these increased fees favor wealthy immigrants.

What can you do to help? DHS is currently accepting public comments for review until December 30, 2019. You can submit a comment on why the federal government should not implement these proposed fee increases. The federal administration is required to read all comments. To learn more about the fee increases, how to submit a comment, comment templates and more, please visit https://cliniclegal.org/fee-schedule-changes.

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