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Durbin, Padilla, Nadler, Jayapal Encourage USCIS to Maintain and Expand Access to Legal Immigration System in Proposed Fee Changes

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, and U.S. Representatives Jerry Nadler (D-NY-12) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07), Ranking Members of the House Committee on the Judiciary and Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement, submitted a public comment to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) proposal to set new fees for requests for immigration benefits. In their letter, the lawmakers expressed their support for USCIS efforts to maintain equitable access to the legal immigration system and made recommendations to improve such access, including by lowering the proposed fee for the provisional unlawful presence waiver and incorporating backlog reduction into USCIS financial planning.

The Administration’s most recent fee proposal follows an attempt by the Trump Administration to drastically increase fees for naturalization applications and impose a new fee for asylum applications in 2019.  Durbin, along with his colleagues, submitted a comment to the Trump Administration expressing strong opposition to the proposal that would increase, without justification, the financial burden on immigrants.  By contrast, Durbin and his colleagues applauded USCIS’s recent proposal to minimize naturalization fee increases for applicants and expand fee exemptions for humanitarian applications. 

“DHS’s proposed fee increase of $35 on Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, is intended to be a level below what is required to recover the estimated full cost of providing naturalization services.  This approach is consistent with our national interest.  Becoming a citizen is the ultimate representation of an individual’s commitment to our nation, and naturalized citizens demonstrate this commitment through high levels of civic participation and patriotism,” the lawmakers wrote.  “In addition to making our country stronger and more dynamic, studies show that immigrants earn more in wages after naturalization and thus contribute to economic growth through increased consumer spending.”

However, Durbin and his colleagues raised concerns regarding DHS’s proposal to increase the fee for undocumented family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to obtain a provisional unlawful presence waiver by 75 percent.  Along with other aspiring Americans who have a pathway to U.S. citizenship, this waiver is essential for many DACA recipients who are married to U.S. citizens or LPRs.  The lawmakers called on DHS to revisit this portion of the proposed rule, reminding the agency that fee increases create a significant financial barrier for applicants as they apply for this waiver that allows them to remain with their families.

“The proposed rule would increase the fee for Form I-601A from its current fee of $630 to $1,105, an increase of approximately 75 percent.  This steep fee increase will have a detrimental impact on many American families,” the lawmakers wrote.  “The I-601A process is essential to allowing mixed-status families who face extreme hardship to remain together.  Although an adjustment in fee may be appropriate, we urge DHS to reconsider and significantly reduce the proposed 75 percent increase in the fee for this application.”

Before concluding their comment, the lawmakers also expressed concerns with USCIS’s proposal to impose a $600 Asylum Program Fee on all employment-based petitions.  

The lawmakers wrote, “We appreciate that the rule proposes to set different fees for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, based on the nonimmigrant classification and type of beneficiary listed on the petition to better reflect the costs associated with processing the benefit requests for the various categories of nonimmigrant worker.  At the same time, we are deeply concerned that USCIS is not issuing newly arrived migrants with long enough periods of parole to seek work authorization, particularly when applications for work authorization face significant delays.”

“Given these concerns, we urge you to take a more balanced approach to accommodate the costs of humanitarian processing, including by (1) considering projections for premium processing revenues in setting fees, and (2) expanding opportunities for work authorization for migrants and asylum seekers on parole in the United States,” the lawmakers continued.

The lawmakers concluded their letter by reiterating their support for proposals to expand exemptions and limit the fees immigrants must pay during the naturalization process.

“The USCIS biennial review and corresponding fee adjustment are essential to improving efficiency and transparency in our immigration system.  We welcome the opportunity to comment on this rule, and strongly support your proposal to set fees based on ability to pay, supporting aspiring citizens, and increase fee exemptions for the most vulnerable applicants and petitioners,” they concluded.

Full text of the letter is available here.