Monday, February 26, 2007

Take Action: USCIS Increases Are Excessive and Unfair

AFSC's long and direct experience with immigrants and immigrant rights activists across the nation grounds our work and informs our strong opposition to proposed fee increases by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services(USCIS). The proposed increases are excessive and will create yet another obstacle for individuals seeking to adjust their immigration status. The proposed 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.

Members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law questioned USCIS Director Emilio T. Gonzalez last week about the usage of excessive proposed immigration fee increases in an oversight hearing. The opening remarks of Subcommittee Chairperson Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) said that Congress "must begin to explore the best means by which CIS ought to be funded."

Representative Lofgren highlighted that in the past, Congress appropriated funds to CIS; however, the Administration has requested a dramatic reduction in directly appropriated funds. "In place of those funds, CIS has proposed a significant raise in its fees - by an average of 96%," she stated. Immigration and Nationality Act Section 128A permits, but does not require, USCIS to fund its operations through use fees. While CIS promised a 20% reduction in processing times, Representative Lofgren questioned whether the return was sufficient.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. criticized the increase. "It is inequitable to tax future citizens for the failures of the agency to appropriately use funds from previous fee increases to solve the problems from the past," he said in an opening statement to the Subcommittee. "Citizenship is priceless. We shouldn't be taxing it, especially at the rates proposed by the Administration's latest proposal," Representative Conyer said.

The proposed increases contradict statements by President Bush in the State of the Union address indicating that the Administration wants to help immigrants become U.S. citizens. For example, the current fee to apply for permanent residency is $325; CIS proposes to raise this fee to $905 (a 178% increase). The fee for naturalization ("citizenship") applications would increase from $330 to $595 (an 80% increase). These exorbitant fees would create undue economic hardship for many applicants and their family members.

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 will support USCIS operations. AFSC also calls 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.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: We invite AFSC supporters to take action today by contacting USCIS and letting them know that the proposed increases are excessive and unfair. Encourage USCIS to work with Congressional leaders to identify an alternative and permanent funding stream that supports USCIS operations.

When submitting comments include the DHS Docket No. USCIS-2006-0044. Written comments must be submitted by April 2, 2007.

1. Mail: Director, Regulatory Management Division, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Department of Homeland Security, 111 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, 3rd Floor, Washington, DC 20529.
2. Telephone: (202) 272-8377
3. Website:
3. E-mail: and include "DHS Docket No. USCIS-2006-0044" in the subject line of the message
4. Fax: (866) 466-5370

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Amendments Attempt to Muddy Minimum Wage Debate

Legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 by the year 2009 is moving forward in Congress. Over 100 amendments on issues including immigration attempted to dilute the consideration of the Senate version of the bill (H.R.2). While most of these amendments did not come to a vote one of the amendments introduced by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) passed (94-0) in the Senate version of the bill, Congressional Quarterly reports. Under the amendment, companies found hiring immigrants without work authorization would be barred from receiving government contracts for 7 years or for 10 years if the company had a government contract at the time.

Companies that participate in the voluntary Electronic Employment Verification System program known as the Basic Pilot Program would have the presumption of compliance and, therefore, be exempt from the ban. Employers in the Basic Pilot Program must electronically verify workers' employment eligibility with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) databases. The amendment will likely pressure companies to enroll in the Basic Pilot Program in order to protect themselves from the ban. The government would also be able to waive the ban if "necessary to the national defense or in the interest of national security."

Currently about 12,000 employers participate the Basic Pilot Program, which "has been hindered by inaccurate and outdated information in the DHS and SSA databases, misuse of the program by employers, and lack of adequate privacy protections," according to the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). Reports conducted by the Government Accountability Office and the DHS confirm that the databases contain inaccurate and outdated information.

Participants in the Basic Pilot Program include the Swift & Company meatpacking plants targeted in recent Immigration & Customs Enforcement raids, which demonstrates the deficiencies of the program. "While the employment eligibility verification Basic Pilot Program often is portrayed as the magic bullet that would curb unauthorized employment, the program has been plagued by problems since its inception in 1997," according to NILC.

Democrats staved off voting on other immigration amendments including another amendment proposed by Sessions, which would raise fines for all companies found hiring undocumented workers, an amendment to use the Social Security Administration Records for immigration enforcement introduced by Senator Allard (R-CO), and an amendment to change agricultural workers' wages introduced by Senator Chambliss (R-GA).

Project Voice, AFSC's nationwide immigrant rights initiative supports humane policies that protect workers and their labor and employment rights. The expanded use of the Basic Pilot Program raises grave concerns about privacy and employment rights. AFSC believes the best mechanism to address our broken immigration system is through rational and fair immigration legislation and not through punitive amendments to other bills which target immigrants. Bearing in mind these principles and concerns, the benefits that an increase in the minimum wage would provide to the nation's workers, leads AFSC to continue to advocate for a "clean" bill to raise the minimum wage.