ILRC Joins Coalition of 8 Immigrants’ Rights Organizations in Lawsuit over the Trump Administration’s Unlawful Fee Rule
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 21, 2020
Contact: Courtney Holsworth
DHS’s new Fee Rule erects unlawful barriers to applying for naturalization and asylum.
San Francisco, California — The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) today announced it had joined a coalition of 8 of the nation’s leading immigrants’ rights organizations in filing a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Chad Wolf, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and Kenneth Cuccinelli over DHS’s new Fee Rule increasing application fees for immigration benefits, including citizenship and asylum. The coalition is seeking a nationwide injunction of the rule to prevent it from going into effect October 2, 2020.
In their lawsuit, the coalition noted that DHS’s new Fee Rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it is contrary to law, and constitutes arbitrary and capricious agency action. The Rule raises application fees for many essential immigration benefits by 30 to 266 percent, while eliminating most fee waivers for qualifying low income immigrants. DHS justified the rule in part based on what it claims are the costs of processing applications. But during the notice and comment period, many criticized DHS for failing to explain how it calculated its skyrocketing costs and burned through ample cash reserves it had on hand just a few years ago.
“With DHS’s new Fee Rule, the Trump administration has demonstrated its willingness to disregard the rule of law in pursuit of its anti-immigrant and xenophobic agenda,” said Melissa Rodgers, Director of Programs for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. “By failing to address the rule’s obviously flawed revenue modeling projections, the Trump administration has not only undercut its own legal rationale for finalizing the rule, it has contradicted USCIS’ own leaderships’ statements to Congress about the financial condition of the agency. Once again, the historic racism and bigotry of this administration is matched only by its staggering incompetence.”
DHS’s Fee Rule has been widely condemned for its exclusionary impact on vulnerable immigrant families, and particularly people of color. By raising naturalization fees by an unprecedented 83 percent, DHS has made the cost of obtaining citizenship prohibitively high for millions of eligible permanent residents, effectively imposing the United States’ first ever wealth test for citizenship. Through establishing the nation’s first-ever fee for asylum seekers, the Trump administration has also made the United States just one of four countries in the world to impose such a fee on people fleeing dangerous situations such as war or political persecution.
In their lawsuit, the coalition noted that the Immigration and Nationality Act prioritizes family unity and diversity. By deliberately making the cost of securing essential immigration benefits unobtainable for millions of immigrant families, the Trump administration’s policy makes family separation inevitable, and violates statutory and constitutional law. The coalition’s lawsuit also noted that neither Kevin McAleenan nor Chad Wolf, who is currently serving as Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, had valid authority to propose or promulgate the Rule under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA). This makes the rule unlawful under the Administrative Procedure Act. On Friday, August 14 the Government Accountability Office issued a decision confirming that Acting Secretaries Wolf and McAleenan were invalidly appointed to their positions. The coalition argues that their invalid appointments render the Fee Rule void and without effect.
STATEMENTS FROM COALITION MEMBERS
“The new Fee Rule is another example of the current administration’s racial bias,” said Michael Smith, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant Director of Refugee Rights. “It disproportionately harms low-income immigrants who are overwhelmingly people of color. The increases in fees and elimination of fee waivers will create a purely financial barrier to the progress of immigrants’ integration in the U.S., delaying or precluding status that is critical to safety, security, and protection. These unnecessary and unfounded changes will cause hardship for hundreds of hardworking, Bay Area immigrants and mixed-status families, including U.S. citizens. Our clients should not have to pay outrageous fees to achieve safety and protection under U.S. and international asylum law.”
“USCIS’ dramatic fee increases will immediately devastate vulnerable populations and our organizational plaintiffs who serve them,” said Jesse Bless, Director of Litigation at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “The planned fee hikes and unprecedented fee to apply for asylum, including an 83% increase for naturalization applications, place an unlawful barrier in the way of individuals eligible for immigration benefits. These wealth tests belong in the dustbin of history.”
"The history of this county is one of immigrants coming in search of a better life, often with little to no resources," said Michael Byun, Executive Director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service. "Over time, through hard work, they have become U.S. citizens, started businesses, made their way up the economic ladder, and prospered. This is the American dream. There cannot be a wealth test on the American dream. The 83 percent fee increase and the elimination of the fee waiver for the application to naturalize constitute a wealth test for the American dream, and this cannot stand. For that reason, ACRS is proud to stand with other immigration service providers from across the country to legally challenge the unjust and unnecessary fee increases at USCIS."
“This fee rule continues this administration's war on immigrants, and sets up major barriers for immigrants who aspire to US citizenship,” said Fred Tsao, Senior Policy Counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “The drastic fee hike and the removal of fee waivers will price out many immigrants who qualify for naturalization in all aspects except the ability to pay. This illegal, nonsensical, and cruel fee rule must not stand.”
"It's outrageous that that our government intends to charge asylum-seekers to submit their claims for protection. Only three countries in the world currently impose such a fee. While $50 may not seem like a lot to some people, it is a fortune to men, women and children fleeing grave danger and arriving at our borders with next to nothing. Catholic social teaching mandates we welcome and protect. To do otherwise goes against our values," said Anna Gallagher, CLINIC executive director. "But let’s be very clear: this is all part of the administration's master plan. First they broke the asylum system, and now they want to break USCIS. But legal immigration rules are outlined by Congress, not the administration. Increasing fees is about denying access to visas and citizenship--processes created by Congress, not the Executive Branch. This is political and illegal. When the administration violates the law, we will see them in court."
"This administration recognizes only privilege and exclusivity, and it now is trying to mold residency, citizenship and asylum into an in-group for the rich," said Angelica Salas, CHIRLA executive director. "But this is our country, not Trump's country club--wealth tests should not apply here. This rule targets our community and groups like CHIRLA for helping them. We look forward to proving this in court."
“Citizenship is the gateway to full participation in the civic life of the United States. Congress says applicants for U.S. citizenship need to pass a history and civics test – they never said anything about a wealth test,” said Rich Stolz, Executive Director at OneAmerica. “Raising the naturalization fee while simultaneously eliminating most fee waivers amounts to a de facto poll tax that will rob our country of reaching its full democratic potential. If USCIS’s new fee scheme is allowed to stand, it will suppress naturalization for all but the wealthy, and establish a second-class tier of long-term legal permanent residents who cannot afford to fully participate as voters and candidates in our democracy. OneAmerica is committed to fighting this rule to ensure our communities have access to naturalization and other immigration benefits they’re rightfully eligible for.”
“The unconscionable increases of USCIS’ fee for naturalization fees and introduction of a fee for asylum will pose an insurmountable wealth test at the end of a long road towards protection and security for thousands of people who otherwise qualify,” said Olga Byrne, The Director of U.S. Immigration at the IRC. “These increased fees will disproportionately impact immigrants of color, older immigrants, those with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations. This rule is among many of the latest rules that raises the bar of access to protection along economic lines in a way that splits the immigrant community, including refugees, asylees, and asylum seekers, who come to the U.S. seeking protection from persecution. Denying community members avenues to U.S. citizenship will ultimately harm our communities by diminishing the economic and social contributions of immigrants. IRC is proud to stand with partner organizations in opposing this Rule and holding USCIS accountable for policies that divide and harm our communities.”
About the Immigrant Legal Resource Center
Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) is a national nonprofit that works with immigrants, community organizations, legal professionals, and policymakers to build a democratic society that values diversity and the rights of all people. Through community education programs, legal training and technical assistance, and policy development and advocacy, the ILRC protects and defends the fundamental rights of immigrant families and communities. As a key part of its mission, ILRC serves as the lead agency for the New Americans Campaign, a non-partisan national campaign aimed at increasing the number of new Americans by ensuring access to the naturalization process and trusted legal assistance.
About East Bay Sanctuary Covenant
Founded in 1982 in response to civil war in Central America, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant (EBSC) provides legal services, community organizing, and transformative education to over 10,000 refugees and people fleeing violence and persecution, reaching over 10,000 people yearly. Through our holistic programming, EBSC helps immigrants and asylum seekers achieve legal status, citizenship, and well-being as they overcome extraordinary obstacles and achieve their dreams for themselves and society. EBSC works with the most marginalized populations fleeing violence and persecution, including unaccompanied minors; torture victims; survivors of gender-based violence, and individuals from the LGBT community.
About the American Immigration Lawyers Association
The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.
About Asian Counseling and Referral Service
Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) offers hope and opportunity in over 40 languages and dialects. We provide one door through which Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders of many generations -- immigrant, refugee, or American born -- can find the resources they need. We help transform the lives of families and individuals by helping people feed their loved ones, access resources, gain English language and work skills, become American citizens, recover from addiction, and achieve mind and body wellness. We serve seniors and people with disabilities, and we connect youth with job training and leadership development opportunities while ensuring they and their families receive the support they need to succeed in a new land. We support AAPIs and other underserved populations by advocating for their communities about issues that matter most to them.
About the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) was founded in 1986. CHIRLA is a California leader with a national impact made of diverse immigrant families and individuals who act as agents of social change to achieve a world with freedom of mobility, full human rights, and true participatory democracy. CHIRLA’s mission is to achieve a just society fully inclusive of immigrants. CHIRLA organizes and serves individuals, institutions, and coalitions to build power, transform public opinion, and change policies to achieve full human, civil and labor rights. Guided by the power, love, and vision of our community, CHIRLA embraces and drives progressive social change. CHIRLA was formed in response to the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 which made hiring undocumented workers illegal, thus creating a situation ripe for worker exploitation and abuse which have increased since that time.
OneAmerica is the largest advocacy organization in Washington State, that advances the fundamental principles of democracy and justice at the local, state, and national levels by building power within immigrant communities in collaboration with key allies. Their The Washington New Americans Program (WNA) connects immigrants and refugees in Washington State to the information and legal services needed to successfully naturalize and exercise their civic voice.
About the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Established in 1986, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is a statewide coalition of more than 100 organizations dedicated to promoting the rights of immigrants and refugees to full and equal participation in the civic, cultural, social, and political life of our diverse society.
About the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, or CLINIC, advocates for humane and just immigration policy. Its network of nonprofit immigration programs — over 370 affiliates in 49 states and the District of Columbia — is the largest in the nation. CLINIC provides substantive legal and program management training and resources, as well as advocacy support at state, local and national levels.
About the International Rescue Committee
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.