Massive Fee Hike Endangers Vulnerable Immigrants

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Just days before a massive filing fee increase was set to go into effect for naturalization applications, and before a first-in-history fee for asylum applications was to be imposed, a federal judge granted a nationwide temporary reprieve.  See the 35-page order here.  

The Trump administration sought to increase the filing fees for naturalization by over 80% , eliminate most fee waivers for low-income immigrants, and create new financial barriers for immigrants seeking asylum protection in the U.S. The fee increases, which USCIS claims are necessary to subsidize the fiscally-challenged agency, were originally scheduled to go into effect on October 2, 2020. 

Federal Judge Rules that Fee Increase Will Endanger Vulnerable Immigrants

On September 29, 2020, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California, appointed by George W. Bush, ruled that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on some of their claims, and wrote:  

“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 immigrant benefits, will block access to humanitarian protections, and will expose those populations to further danger.”

The plaintiffs, which included several non-profit organizations which serve the immigrant community, also argued that defendant Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was improperly appointed, and therefore his actions, such as proposed fee increases, are unlawful.  

Plaintiffs also made the case that the USCIS fee rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs federal agencies.

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to appeal.

Immigrant Rights Groups Applaud the Ruling

One of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, issued the following statement on the court’s order:  

“USCIS’ Fee Rule is unlawful and incredibly destructive, and we applaud the court’s decision to protect millions of immigrants and their families. 

The Rule, which disproportionately harms people of color, is a blatant attempt by the Trump administration to create financial barriers for asylum seekers, families, and would-be citizens in order to prevent them from obtaining United States residence or U.S. citizenship. 

This is immoral, classist and a blatant violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The injunction will ensure that millions of low income immigrants, applicants for naturalization, asylum seekers, survivors of domestic violence and survivors of human trafficking will be able to affordably apply for the immigration benefits they are eligible for.”

What This Means for Immigrants Seeking Benefits

Until further notice, applicants will not be subjected to the fee increases as outlined in the regulation.  It is expected that USCIS will issue an update regarding the impact on the order on new editions on forms that were to be implemented on October 2, as part of the fee increase.

Monitor this issue closely and refer to the USCIS website for updates.  


Richard Herman is a lawyer without borders. A nationally renowned immigration lawyer, author and activist, he has dedicated his life to advocating for immigrants and helping change the conversation on immigration.  He is the founder of the Herman Legal Group, an immigration law firm launched in 1995 and recognized in U.S. World News & Report’s “Best Law Firms in America.”  He is the co-author of the acclaimed book, Immigrant, Inc. —Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Driving the New Economy (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).  Richard’s poignant commentary has been sought out by many national media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, BusinessWeek, Forbes, FOX News (The O’Reilly Factor), National Public Radio, Inc., National Lawyers Weekly, PC World, Computerworld, CIO, TechCrunch, Washington Times, San Francisco Chronicle and InformationWeek.

Image:Neelam Sundaram on Unsplash

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