WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Friday proposed hiking a range of fees assessed on those pursuing legal immigration and citizenship, as well as for the first time charging those fleeing persecution for seeking protection in the United States.
The rule, which will be published on Thursday and will have a monthlong comment period, would increase citizenship fees more than 60 percent, to $1,170 from $725, for most applicants. For some, the increase would reach 83 percent. The government would also begin charging asylum seekers $50 for applications and $490 for work permits, a move that would make the United States one of four countries to charge people for asylum.
It would also increase renewal fees for hundreds of thousands of participants of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. That group, known as “Dreamers,” would need to pay $765, rather than $495, for a renewal request. The fee hike comes days before the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the validity of President Trump’s justification to terminate DACA.
“Once again, this administration is attempting to use every tool at its disposal to restrict legal immigration and even U.S. citizenship,” said Doug Rand, a founder of Boundless Immigration, a technology company in Seattle that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship. “It’s an unprecedented weaponization of government fees.”
Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the acting director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, said in a statement that the proposed changes would alleviate an “overextended system,” allowing his agency to address an annual deficit of nearly $1.3 billion a year. Former agency officials and immigration lawyers, however, said the decision to charge asylum seekers erased a long-held principle of not placing a financial burden on some of the world’s most vulnerable people seeking protection.
“There was a recognition that the likelihood of their ability to pay is really in question,” said Barbara Strack, a former chief of the agency’s refugee affairs division under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “The only way to understand this is as a part of the administration’s campaign of hostility against the asylum program.”
The Trump administration has already tried to limit immigration to the United States through numerous policies that favor those with more wealth. This summer, Mr. Cuccinelli announced a “public charge” rule that would deny poor immigrants green cards if they were deemed likely to use government benefit programs like food stamps and subsidized housing. Last month, the administration said it would deny visas to immigrants who cannot prove they will have health insurance or the ability to pay for medical costs once they become permanent residents of the United States.
Federal judges have blocked both policies from taking effect as legal challenges play out.
The White House has also specifically targeted asylum seekers arriving at the southwestern border. More than 50,000 have been forced to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases are adjudicated, and the administration is trying to deny protections to migrants who fail to apply for asylum in at least one country on their way to the border.
Mr. Cuccinelli has often said that the agency is strapped for resources as it works to tackle a backlog of more than one million cases in immigration court. .
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, he said in a statement, “is required to examine incoming and outgoing expenditures, just like a business, and make adjustments based on that analysis.” He said the proposed changes would help an “overextended system.”
According to the proposal, the additional revenue would help replenish the agency’s budget after Mr. Trump transferred more than $207 million of its funding to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for deportations and the long-term detention of migrants.
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security said in the proposal that the transfer would support investigating “immigration fraud.” ICE agents were deployed to the southwestern border this year to conduct DNA tests on migrants to weed out what administration officials described as “fraudulent families” — children traveling with adults who are not their parents.
Along with the various fee increases, the proposal would also eliminate fee waivers that Citizenship and Immigration Services currently grants to those experiencing certain financial hardships.
If any of the new fees or fee increases go into effect, they will almost certainly prompt legal challenges.
Immigration advocates balked at the notion that the proposal was meant to cover the agency’s deficit, with some speculating that the changes were politically motivated to reduce the number of immigrants who are able to become naturalized citizens before the 2020 presidential election.
“This administration is working assiduously to put up more barriers to immigrants,” said Melissa Rodgers, the director of programs at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco.
She described the naturalization fee increases as part of “a pattern of attack” by the Trump administration “to undermine the opportunity for immigrants to become citizens.”
“It’s saying if you aren’t wealthy, you are not welcome here,” she added.
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