NYT Editorial: USCIS Fee Increases Not the Answer

On June 11, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a proposal to increase the filing fees for a variety of immigration forms. (See Proposed Rule: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule, 75 Fed. Reg. 33445, 11.Jun.2010.) The proposal has met with mixed reviews. On the one hand, the USCIS is required by law to fund most of its operations – about 90 percent – from application fees paid by people seeking particular immigration benefits. (See USCIS Seeks Public Comment on Proposal to Adjust Fees for Immigration Benefits, 11.Jun.2010.) According to the New York Times, USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas said the fee increases are needed to plug a $200 million hole in the agency’s budget for the next fiscal year, which begins October 1st. (See The High Cost of Immigrating, New York Times editorial, 21.Jun.2010.) On the other hand, the new fee structure, which would increase most application fees by about 10 percent, will make it even more difficult for prospective immigrants to come here legally. The cost of a green card, for instance, has already more than doubled since 2007, and now tops $1,000, including the biometrics fee. Under the proposed new fee structure, a green card and the required biometrics would jump $60, to $1,070. As the New York Times editorial points out, the cost of filing for citizenship would remain the same – $595 – and some other fees would actually decrease a bit.

Although the Times editorial rightfully praises USCIS for its flexibility in holding down at least some of the application fees, it also calls on the USCIS to make it easier for poor immigrants to receive fee waivers. Moreover, the NYT editorial chastises Congress for spending so much on border enforcement, aimed at preventing illegal immigration, while spending so little to finance the administrative system that enables immigrants to come here legally. In the final analysis, the Times concludes, it is a failure of political will that keeps our spending so imbalanced: “Immigration has done so much to make the country thrive and prosper, yet the American people are unwilling to pay for it. Congress should be carrying more of the weight of financing the system.”

To push things one step further: we ought to ask ourselves whether the current system, with its high fees and bureaucratic complexity, isn’t actually encouraging some would-be legal immigrants to throw up their hands and join the ranks of the undocumented. A well-financed immigration system would make it easier, not harder, for aspiring immigrants to come here through proper legal channels, and would reduce incentives to circumvent the system. Congress would be well advised to reconsider this financing scheme when comprehensive immigration reform returns to the legislative agenda.

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