Deadline approaches for public comment about fee increases for immigration benefits

WASHINGTON — As the deadline approaches to submit comments about proposed changes in fees for immigration benefits, three Catholic agencies highlighted the benefits of naturalization and opposed the proposed changes by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that would make immigration unattainable for low-income and vulnerable immigrants.

CLINIC, Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities USA filed a joint comment emphasizing that access to naturalization and other immigration benefits are mutually beneficial for immigrants, their families, employers and society. The comment also decried a proposal to take funds paid by immigrants to cover the costs of processing their applications and transfer them to ICE for enforcement purposes.

“Immigration benefits must remain accessible to applicants and petitioners of all socioeconomic strata,” said the 32-page comment. “Catholic social teaching emphasizes the value of economic freedom, for the economy must exist for the benefit of the human, not vice versa. It is not in anyone’s best interests for people to fall out of lawful immigration status solely because they cannot afford to pay the filing fee. It would certainly be harmful to the immigrants and their families, but it would also be detrimental to employers who would lose their workers, and to the U.S. economy that would lose productivity.” 

The proposed fee schedule would disproportionately increase the costs of immigration for low-income immigrants and their families. Some of the changes include an 83 percent increase to the naturalization fee, a 79 percent increase for green card applications, and a 55 percent increase in DACA renewal fees. The proposal also includes a new fee to apply for affirmative asylum, making the United States one of only four countries in the world to impose such a fee.  

“The family is the building block of American society,” the three Catholic organizations said, “and imposing or increasing burdens on those seeking to pursue better lives for their families is antithetical to American values. The call to family, community, and participation is a central tenet of Catholic social teaching. Proposals to increase fees and eliminate fee waivers for many categories of benefits will place low- and moderate- income families at a disadvantage, making immigration benefits less accessible to the most vulnerable.” 

Legal and social services agencies are encouraged to join in opposing the proposals before the Dec. 30 due date for comments. CLINIC has developed tools to assist people and organizations. As of Dec. 20, more than 19,300 comments had been submitted. A public platform CLINIC developed has facilitated the submission of more than 8,100 comments.