Immigration officials are considering a proposal that would institute a new fee for certain immigrants who entered the US as children, charge for asylum applications, and transfer more than $200 million to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The details come from Department of Homeland Security briefing documents from a September meeting that lay out US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ plans for its much-anticipated upcoming proposed regulation on fees. USCIS, which is primarily funded through money from immigrants’ applications such as filing for a green card or work permit, is required to review its fee structure every two years.
If instituted, the proposal would represent to immigrant advocates the latest attempt to restrict immigration through legal means.
In recent months, the administration has issued rules to deny permanent residency to immigrants in the US who immigration officials believe would not be able to support themselves financially and block the entry of immigrants applying for visas who cannot prove that they will be able to obtain health insurance within 30 days of entering the United States.
“This is one more way under the administration that they are making legal immigration unattainable,” said Ur Jaddou, former chief counsel at USCIS under the Obama administration.
USCIS which is planning to publish the proposed regulation in January, has multiple fee proposals but its primary option is to transfer more than $200 million to ICE for “qualifying investigative work,” issue a new fee for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewals, charge $50 for asylum applications, institute a fee for asylum-seekers’ work authorization documents, and cut fee waivers to only those that are required by statute and international treaties.
"Currently, USCIS is conducting its biennial fee review, as required under the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, to study the agency’s revenue, costs and needs," a spokesperson for USCIS told BuzzFeed News. "As always, USCIS will publicly communicate information on its fee review through a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) published in the federal register, should a decision be made to adjust its fees. No determination has yet been made."
Agency officials included six different fee scenarios in the proposed regulation, according to the briefing documents. Former DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen previously supported the scenario instituting a new fee for DACA renewals.
The documents point out that the US would become just the fourth country in the world to charge for an asylum application, joining Iran, Fiji, and Australia.
The proposal would lead to scenarios in which families that are unable to pay for certain forms, like naturalization applications that cost more than $700, being unable to obtain waivers that offset the costs, Jaddou explained.
“The way we thought of it was — you want to encourage people to integrate into society, that is good for the country,” she said of the effort the Obama administration made to continue fee waivers. “That is what is so beautiful about the US. You take a person from a totally different place and you welcome them as one of us now. Making it out of reach is a real problem.”
The briefing documents note that if events "materialize" that change the "assumptions" in their primary option, they will move to one of the other five fee proposals they considered and institute their fee changes.
Jaddou believes the agency has proposed various fee scenarios in the proposed regulation in case the Supreme Court decides to shut down DACA.
If the court decides to allow the program to continue and for immigrants to apply for DACA renewals, the new fee could be a way to restrict applications administratively, Jaddou explained. Currently, applicants pay nearly $500 to renew and obtain their employment authorization and complete their biometrics. The new proposed fee would add to that.
“We know they are trying to kill DACA. If you can’t kill it, you charge a lot of money and some people will be driven out,” she said. “That is how you take the administrative state, the power you have through the executive to do what you want either because the court or Congress says no.”
BuzzFeed News previously reported that the administration was considering a $50 fee for affirmative asylum applications, which are filed by those who are already within the country. The $50 fee is included in all of the scenarios the agency is considering within the proposed regulation.
Currently, there is no fee to enter an “affirmative asylum” application. The fee would not apply to those who claim a fear of persecution at ports of entry or those who apply for the protections while in deportation proceedings. There would be no waiver of the fee for those who cannot afford to pay the $50.
USCIS officials also plan to charge for work permit applications from asylum seekers. Currently, there is no charge for asylum seekers to seek work authorization for the first time.
While USCIS has previously raised fees for various forms, it has long not charged for certain humanitarian applications, such as visas for crime victims and working with police or visas for those who have been victims of human trafficking.
USCIS officials claim that the agency forgoes more than $3 million every day the rule is not in effect and that they are considering budget cuts next year and prioritizing certain work until the fee rule is instituted.