Homeland Security proposes increases in fees for immigration applications

Washington, DC, USA – In a February 3rd press release, the
American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) 
criticized the proposed changes in immigration application fees.

Statement of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on Proposed
USCIS Fee Increase and the President’s Proposed FY 2005 Budget:

“The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) bureau of the Department
of Homeland Security today proposed increases in fees for immigration
applications of up to 55%. These fees cover almost all of the bureau’s expenses.
However, at a time when the quality of service is at an historic low, increases
of this magnitude are difficult to justify. Processing backlogs have reached
crisis proportions, while the agency wastes resources revisiting issues already
resolved and harassing honest petitioners with requests for paperwork unrelated
to their immigration eligibility. Making matters worse, the public’s only
available avenue to resolve government errors and problems is a contractor-run
800 number that has proven to be useless to deal with these issues. Adding insult to injury, the proposed fee increase would force applicants to pay
for these failures. As USCIS loses files, errs on more and more applications,
and provides no viable avenue to resolve problems, lawsuits to force action have
increased. The proposed budget for USCIS factors the costs of these suits into
the fees by proposing a surcharge to pay for them. The Equal Access to Justice
Act mandates that government agencies pay certain costs when they take a
substantially unjustified position in litigation. USCIS proposes to evade this
law by forcing the very people who are harmed by its actions or inaction to pay
the costs of the agency’s unjustified positions.

The Department also has announced that it intends to outsource the immigration
information officer (IIO) function and factors into the proposed fee increase
the cost of conducting an expensive study of this problematic initiative.
Despite numerous problems associated with contracting out the deeply flawed 800
number system, the USCIS budget would mandate that applicants pay the costs of
this study to expand this failed concept to cover all user assistance functions.

In January 1998, the Commissioner of the INS, USCIS’s predecessor, stated that
the fee increase announced at that time would not be implemented until applicant
wait times started to decrease. Today, no such reticence is shown. Even though
the ordinary wait times on many applications are double or triple today what
they were in 1998, USCIS offers no such concession to those who must pay
increasing amounts for deteriorated service. AILA urges the Director of the
USCIS to follow the example of his predecessor and demonstrate good faith by
foreswearing the fee increase until the pandemic backlogs throughout the agency
are noticeably decreased.

The Bush Administration’s proposed FY 2005 budget for USCIS only deepens our
concerns with the $140 million included for the bureau. Such a sum recognizes
neither current challenges nor realities. AILA long has supported direct
Congressional appropriations to supplement user fees: USCIS adjudications and
security checks are in the national interest and such appropriations are
necessary to ensure a rational and predictable funding stream. The President’s
proposed budget is going in the wrong direction. The $140 million marks a 41%
reduction from the inadequate $236 million the bureau received in FY 2004.
Furthermore, Administration spokespersons have indicated their goal of covering
costs wholly with fee revenue. AILA calls on the Administration to conduct a
study to determine what level of funding is necessary to adequately support
USCIS’s adjudications functions, eliminate the backlog, and put this bureau on
sound financial footing. Both the Administration and Congress need to step up to
the plate and recognize that the current funding system is deeply flawed and
needs to be changed.”

Founded in 1946, AILA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides its
Members with continuing legal education, information, and professional services.
AILA advocates before Congress and the Administration and provides liaison with
the DHS and other government agencies. AILA is an Affiliated Organization of the
American Bar Association.

Related stories published at World Music Central:

Slamming the Door Shut

Homeland Security Forces Cancellations of Paco de Lucía Concerts