Judge Blocks Trump Administration Effort to Fund Immigration Services

People take the oath of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's Field Office, Thursday, July 2, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

A federal judge in San Francisco on Tuesday temporarily blocked a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) rule that sought to better fund services for people seeking citizenship and asylum through an increase in application fees, citing that it would discriminate against low-income applicants.

The block comes after immigration rights groups filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration.

The final rule was put in the federal register in August, including an explanation of how it is in keeping with President Donald Trump’s efforts to analyze and adjust cost and benefits at out-of-control federal bureaucracies.

The rule stated, in part: 

USCIS conducted a comprehensive biennial fee review and determined that current fees do not recover the full cost of providing adjudication and naturalization services. Therefore, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is adjusting USCIS fees by a weighted average increase of 20 percent, adding new fees for certain immigration benefit requests, establishing multiple fees for nonimmigrant worker petitions, and limiting the number of beneficiaries for certain forms. 

The Wall Street Journal reported on the judge blocking the rule, which would have gone into effect this week:

Under the proposed fee increases, the cost of a citizenship application would have risen to $1,160 from $640, or more than 80%, and for the first time the U.S. would have charged a fee of $50 to file an asylum application. Most fee waivers for low-income immigrants would have been eliminated under the changes. A group of immigrant-advocacy organizations sued to stop the fee changes.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White of the Northern District of California issued a nationwide preliminary injunction, ruling that allowing the changes to go ahead while the lawsuit continues would irreparably harm immigrants who couldn’t afford the new fees.

“If it takes effect, it will prevent vulnerable and low-income applicants from applying for immigration benefits, block access to humanitarian protections, and will expose populations to further danger,” Judge White, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the judge also blocked the rule, in part, because it was issued by Chad Wolf who is the acting secretary of Homeland Security, which violates law because his is not a confirmed secretary of the agency, the judge said.

The ruling means that fee increases are halted until the judge reaches a full ruling on the case.

USCIS said in a statement it “is reviewing the ruling on the fee rule and has no further comment at this time,” according to the Wall Street Journal. 

The news outlet also noted that increasing fees to keep up with inflation is not unusual, but immigration rights groups claim it is an attack on immigrants.

“When you increase fees so much and you eliminate fee waivers, you’re completely pricing out millions of people from accessing opportunities that Congress wanted them to have,” Melissa Rodgers, director of programs at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said.

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