Court Blocks USCIS Fee Increases
On the 29th of September, 2020, a federal judge in California granted a motion for the preliminary injunction of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) updated fee schedule. This fee schedule was set to go into effect on October 2nd, 2020, and would have increased filing fees for certain immigration and naturalization benefit requests. International studies, new U.S. citizens, and businesses would have been impacted.
DHS has originally announced the final rule on July 31st, 2020, which included a weighted average fee increase of 20 percent. Changes to filing fees included a new $50.00 fee for asylum seekers and an 80% increase for naturalization services. A $10 registration fee requirement was added for the filing of H-1B petitions on behalf of cap-subject aliens. I-765 Application for Employment Authorization fees would have increased by $140 and I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence fees would have reduced by $10 to amount to $1,130. USCIS had said that these price increases were necessary to support the agency as it suffered from a budget shortfall. Many immigration activists and human rights organizations denounced the rule soon after it was issued, criticizing that the rule pushed lower-income individuals outside of the U.S. immigration system.
Northern California U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White issued the nationwide injunction yesterday, banning Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and USCIS officials from implementing the July 31st Final Rule. Co-founder of Boundless Immigration Doug Rand explained that as long as this preliminary injunction is in place, USCIS will not be able to raise its fees as it had planned. It is likely that the U.S. government will appeal the Ninth Circuit court to obtain a stay, says Doug Rand, although it is unclear as to how long this will take.
In his ruling of Immigrant Legal Resource Center, et al. v. Chad F. Wolf, et al., Judge White wrote, “Plaintiffs persuasively argue that the public interest would be served by enjoining or staying the effective date of the Final Rule because if it takes effect, it will prevent vulnerable and low-income applicants from applying for immigration benefits, will block access to humanitarian protections, and will expose those populations to further danger.”
Judge White ruled that the case’s plaintiffs, composed of eight non-profit organizations that serve immigrants, showed that:
- DHS was not serving under the Homeland Security Act;
- The final rule violates procedural and substantive requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which included, “failing to disclose data, relying on unexplained data and ignoring data on the record,” according to the final rule. DHS had argued that individuals would apply for immigration services no matter how expensive USCIS filing fees are, which contradicted the statements that appeared during DHS’s comment period;
- The final rule was arbitrary and capricious, as it failed to consider the negative impacts on low-income immigrant populations;
- The government did not provide reasoned justification for the policy shift in which fee waivers were eliminated and fees were increased; and
- By implementing a fee for asylum seekers to deter frivolous applications, USCIS relied on factors that Congress had not intended for DHS to consider. This, again, violates the APA.
Judge White rejected the Trump Administration’s request for a brief administrative stay, writing that, “A stay beyond October 2, 2020, would allow the Final Rule to go into effect, thereby altering the status quo.” Note that this ruling temporarily halts the fee increases until the merits of the case are decided as a whole. Therefore, there remains the possibility that USCIS’s filing fees will go up in the future.