The Trump administration is considering charging immigrants a fee to apply for asylum protection in the United States, according to sources close to the administration.
The proposal, included in a not-yet-finalized draft regulation, would charge applicants, if they are already residing in the US, $50 to apply for asylum. 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.
More than 300,000 such cases are pending with US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees the process. Last year, more than 100,000 people applied for asylum protections through USCIS.
The proposed move, if instituted, would be the latest change in the asylum process pushed by the administration, which has long been critical of a process it says is too often abused. Advocates have said that the administration’s changes to asylum, including restricting who qualifies for asylum and a proposed ban on anyone who crossed the border without authorization from receiving it, are illegal and inhumane.
The vast majority of countries across the globe do not charge a fee for asylum applications.
USCIS officials did not comment on the draft regulation.
“People will say, ‘$50? What’s $50?’ but that’s not the point. This [seeking asylum] is not something people are doing voluntarily. It flies in the face of what asylum and refugee requests are,” said Ur Jaddou, a former chief counsel at USCIS and current director of the advocacy organization DHS Watch. “These are people fleeing something and looking for protection from us … for us to turn around and say ‘that’s nice, we’d like to help but you’d have to pay a fee’ seems contrary to the point.”
The immigration agency is primarily funded through fees received from immigrants’ applications, such as filing for a green card, work permit, or an application for a family member who wishes to come to the country. The agency is required to review its fees, revenues, costs, and needs every two years. The agency increased fees for most applications, including citizenship applications and certifications, in 2016.
Notably, however, the agency does not charge 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.
The idea that the US would charge to apply for asylum outraged immigration attorneys.
“The reason we don’t charge for asylum applications is intuitive,” said Juan Camilo Mendez Guzman, an immigration attorney with Pangea Legal Services. “Even if it keeps one person from being able to apply, is that what we are about? We are going to put a dollar amount on not getting sent back to a place of persecution? It’s crazy.”
Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said that the proposal is yet another way for the administration make life difficult for asylum applicants.
“It is true that bad actors have taken advantage of our backlogged asylum system, and that it is important to address the weaknesses that allow that to happen, but taking steps that punish legitimate asylum-seekers is not the way to go.”