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Engel Joins House Colleagues in Demanding DHS Stop Fee Increases for Naturalization

Engel Joins House Colleagues in Demanding DHS Stop Fee Increases for Naturalization

 

Congressman Eliot L. Engel and 83 of his House colleagues sent a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, and Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Ken Cuccinelli calling on DHS to withdraw a newly proposed rule that would increase fees for individuals to become naturalized citizens.

 

As currently drafted, the proposal would inevitably price out hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people from obtaining citizenship and other immigration benefits for which they qualify, based solely on their inability to afford these unreasonably high fees.

 

“Once again we see the Trump Administration taking clear and active steps to deter immigration and prevent people from becoming American citizens,” Engel said. “Raising these fees is unnecessary. The administration is justifying this rule on budgetary grounds, but their budget troubles are of their own creation. Remember, it was the Administration that took money away from other programs in order to fund their nefarious ICE operations. Money allocated for helping to naturalize citizens should never be used to separate families and cage children. I join my colleagues in calling for the Administration to withdraw this horrendous rule.

 

“Whether it is a physical wall or raising fees to an unaffordable level, this administration continues its assault on people looking to come to this country to make a better life for themselves. They claim they want a legal system of immigration, but then make coming here an unattainable goal. It’s disgraceful.”  

 

A copy of the letter can be found below:

 

 

The Honorable Chad F. Wolf
Acting Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

 

The Honorable Kenneth T. Cuccinelli
Acting Director
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
20 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20529

 

RE: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements; DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010; RIN 1615-AC18

 

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Director Cuccinelli:

 

We write to express our strong objections to the above-referenced proposed rule posted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and to the unusual and unreasonable 32-day comment period. We respectfully request that you withdraw this rule and instead work with Congress to determine how to better address the funding requirements for USCIS activities.

 

As currently drafted, the proposal would inevitably price out hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people from obtaining citizenship and other immigration benefits for which they qualify, based solely on their inability to afford these unreasonably high fees.

 

The following represent some of the most objectionable provisions in the proposal that would undermine fair and equitable access to our immigration system by:

dramatically raising filing fees for naturalization forms by as much as 389 percent in some cases, and specifically raising the naturalization application (Form N-400) fee by 83 percent, from $640 to $1,170, undermining the special consideration that obtaining U.S. citizenship deserves;

eliminating fee waivers for naturalization, lawful permanent residence, employment authorization, and other applications, placing such benefits out of reach of those who are eligible but face financial hardship;

charging, for the first time, those seeking asylum a $50 fee to apply and further require them to pay $490 for employment authorization while their asylum case is pending;

raising the fee for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewals from $495 to $765, adding yet another obstacle to lawful status for young immigrants; and,

increasing fee rates to recover the cost of using Immigration Examinations Fee Account funds to support Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operations[1].

 

If the rule were to go into effect, the exorbitant fee increases would serve as a barrier to citizenship, lawful permanent residence, asylum, DACA, employment authorization, and numerous other benefits, and disproportionately restrict access to working class, low-income, elderly, and other immigrants who would otherwise be able to apply. Further, raising fees in order to cover the costs of ICE investigative operations is unacceptable. This is another example of DHS needlessly increasing fee rates as a cruel means to prevent would-be applicants from applying for benefits and diverting discretionary funding towards the unnecessary expansion of border wall and increasing the inhumane and costly detention of people in ICE detention centers.

 

Given that the proposed fee increases are unprecedently high and have the potential to fundamentally restrict access to our immigration system, we are also perplexed that the agency is breaking from its historic practice of allowing a 60-day comment period. The legal community, service providers, employers, and community-based organizations will need sufficient time to review, evaluate, and comment on the potential impact on the people they support, employ, and serve. By allotting only 32 days for comment, the agency is sending the message that it is unconcerned about the impact of its proposal on this country. As members of Congress who represent the broad spectrum of USCIS customers and other stakeholders who would be impacted by this rule and who are charged with oversight of DHS and its agencies, this is absolutely unacceptable.

 

Based on the serious concerns we raise above and the danger that fast-tracking this proposal would impose on applicants, we respectfully urge you to withdraw this rule and work with Congress to address any demonstrated funding shortfalls USCIS may have. We also urge you to reduce application backlogs and delays and improve customer service in ways that do not discriminate against the working class, low income applicants and others who face financial hardships. The American dream should be available to all those who aspire to it, regardless of income or wealth.

 

Thank you for your attention on this time-sensitive matter. Due to the short comment period and urgency of this matter, we look forward to hearing from you by Friday, November 22, 2019.

 

Sincerely,

 

cc:        Mr. Mark Koumans, Deputy Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

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[1] While the draft rule states that the amount is subject to change, the fee rates included in the draft rule are premised upon the assumption that $207.6 million of the Immigration Examinations Fee Account funds would be used to support Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations.