Updated: Oct. 1, 2020
On Tuesday night (9/29/2020), a federal judge in California temporarily blocked U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from increasing their fees.
In July, USCIS announced they would be increasing green card, citizenship, and other fees to “meet operational needs”. The fee increases were significant compared to previous fee increases implemented by USCIS, averaging 20 percent across all applicaiton types. According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the changes included a new $50 fee for asylum applications, limited fee waivers and changed the criteria for fee waiver eligibility, and charged separate fees for Forms I-765 and I-131 when filed with Form I-485, which is more than a 60 percent increase.
In Tuesday’s opinion, Judge Jeffrey White of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California questioned the reasoning behind these fee increases. USCIS has not provided data to show why their financial situation has become so dire. The court agreed with the plaintiffs that the fee increases seem to be based on arbitrary and capricious arguments.
The court also questioned the legality of the fee increases as The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not have a Senate-confirmed secretary. The acting director of DHS, Chad F. Wolf, and previous acting director, Kevin McAleenan, were both appointed unlawfully under the Homeland Security Act and as such, they did not have the authority to issue the rule changes USCIS set forth as its final rule. The court concluded that the public has an interest in avoiding executive overreach and that appointments required informed consent of the Legislative branch.
In his ruling, Judge White also cited humanitarian protections for low-income and vulnerable immigrants. The fee increases would “expose those populations to further danger” he wrote.
The court’s injunction took effect immediately Tuesday night, so USCIS fees will not increase in the short term. However, the Trump administration will likely appeal the court’s decision.