Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Excessive Fees Increase Financial Hardship

USCIS Ignores Community Outcry

AFSC's long and direct experience and partnerships with immigrants and refugee communities across the nation grounds our work and informs our strong opposition to the newly announced fee increases by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The increases will create yet another obstacle for individuals seeking to adjust their immigration status. The fee increases will place too heavy a burden on the backs of immigrants, many of whom cannot shoulder the excessive costs and will be forced to postpone their dreams of becoming U.S. citizens or remain separated from their families.

The size of the fee increases is particularly troubling since the Bush administration has repeatedly indicated that it is committed to helping immigrants adjust their status in the United States, including eventual citizenship.

USCIS released a final fee schedule, which goes into effect on July 30, 2007, yet which completely ignores the outcry of immigrants and refugee communities, elected officials, social service organizations and others who have expressed serious concerns about the financial impact and hardships the revised fees will create for persons seeking to adjust their status in the United States, or that of family members.

According to Amy Gottlieb, director of AFSC's Newark-based immigrant rights program, "Although USCIS has included the possibility of waiving fees in certain hardship cases the new fees are prohibitively high and will cause great hardship for most of our clients."

For example, the current fee to apply for permanent residency is $325; USCIS will raise this fee to $1,010. The fee for naturalization ("citizenship") applications will increase from $330 to $675. The fees include an $80 biometric fee.

As House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) stated in a hearing of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship, Border Security and International Law, "Many in the immigrant community see the increase for what it is: increasing the costs of the American dream; telling those least fortunate among us that they probably need not apply."

Statements by members of Congress refute the justifications used by USCIS for the increases. "Customer service and processing backlogs have not improved enough to justify such a steep fee increase. Predicting better service on the backs of the next wave of immigrants we want to help strikes us not only as unfair, but also as a questionable way to do business," wrote the Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Joe Baca (D-CA) in a letter to Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).

Many of the over 3,900 comments received by USCIS recommended alternative funding sources including appropriated funds. USCIS, however, rejected the use of alternative funding sources and chose to place its burden on immigrant families.

The negative impact and undue hardship of the excessive increases necessitates support for alternative funding sources from the nation's lawmakers. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) said in a statement submitted to the Subcommittee, "... in 2006, the USCIS received appropriated funds to address and eliminate its backlog. USCIS should spend these funds efficiently and not put very difficult financial obstacles in the way of immigrants who are complying with the law."

In a letter to USCIS Director Emilio T. Gonzalez, AFSC General Secretary Mary Ellen McNish urged the USCIS to work with Congress to create an alternative and permanent funding stream that would support USCIS operations.

AFSC also continues to call on Congressional leaders to fund immigration services and policies that benefit families rather than spend millions of dollars to underwrite policies centered on arrests, detention, and deportation, which cause untold hardships for families and communities.

>For the final USCIS fee schedule click here.