The Trump administration has been notoriously pushing policies that impact undocumented immigrants in the U.S. but now they’re making it that much more difficult for anyone trying to become a citizen but proposing to increase the cost of citizenship applications by 83 percent. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at the Department of Homeland Security officially announced the proposed price hike, saying that “current fees do not recover the full costs of providing adjudication and naturalization services.”
The citizenship application fee would go from $1,170 from $725, increasing between 60 to 83 percent for some, the New York Times reports. The government would also begin charging asylum seekers $50 for applications and $490 for work permits, which would make the U.S. one of four countries charging people seeking asylum, the publication reports. There is currently no fee to enter an “affirmative asylum” application and there would be no waiver for those who can’t afford the fee, Buzzfeed News reports.
“The cost to collect the fee will probably outweigh the fee itself and doesn’t come close to covering the cost of adjudicating an asylum application,” a USCIS official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter told Buzzfeed News. “It’s another example of the Trump administration putting up punitive barriers to asylum.”
Legal permanent residency will jump from $1,220 to $2,195, increasing 79 percent, affecting nine million immigrants eligible to become citizens, NBC News reports. DACA renewals would increase from $495 to $765, which some argue is another way the Trump administration can limit the number of recipients should the Supreme Court not end the program. This is reportedly after Trump transferred roughly $207 million of USCIS funding to ICE.
“Once again, this administration is attempting to use every tool at its disposal to restrict legal immigration and even U.S. citizenship,” Doug Rand, a founder of Boundless Immigration, a tech company helping immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship, told the NYT. “It’s an unprecedented weaponization of government fees.”
Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the acting director of USCIS, said in a statement that the increase would provide much needed funds for an “overextended system” with an annual deficit of close to $1.3 billion, NYT reports.
Yet critics of the price hikes say it goes against the principle of not placing a financial burden on vulnerable refugees. “This is blood money,” an asylum officer told Buzzfeed News. “Only a bully says, ‘I won’t protect you unless you pay up.’”
Earlier this year, Cuccinelli proposed a “public charge” rule where immigrants deemed poor and likely to use government programs like food stamps could be denied green cards. The Trump administration also proposed denying visas to immigrants who don’t provide proof that they’ll have health insurance or be able to pay medical costs once they become permanent residents. Federal judges blocked both policies from taking effect while legal challenges play out, the NYT reports.
The proposal now enters a public comment period that’ll likely end Dec. 16, after which USCIS is legally obligated to consider comments before the new rule can take effect, according to the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), a network of immigrant advocacy organizations, NBC News reports.
Immigrant advocacy groups are suggesting that now is a good time for legal residents to become citizens so they can’t avoid the potential fee increase and also register in time for the 2020 election.
“If you were lacking motivation before, it’s now even more important because this outrageous rule aims to price out low-income and working-class immigrants from U.S. citizenship and so many other immigration benefits,” Diego Iñiguez-López, NPNA’s policy, and campaigns manager said in a statement.
With Democratic nominees like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders gaining popularity with plans to tax the one percent should they win the presidency, this plan to replenish funds by taxing the poor and vulnerable is in stark contrast and reinforces the conservative policies the Trump administration proposes. Echoing the sentiments shared by Iñiguez-López, it’s important that the nearly nine million immigrants eligible to become citizens consider their power and mobilize to make a change.