By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – With the impending drastic increase in immigration fees, two FilAm women lawyers here said that the USCIS needed to improve on its internal procedures to address processing delays.
The USCIS announced Friday that it will implement an average of 20 percent increase to fees for immigration benefits starting October 2, 2020. The increase is made to ensure that the agency has the resources it needs to provide adequate services to its clients.
Lawyer Lara Gregory, community activist and founder of the nonprofit Legal Good, criticized the USCIS for having shown no indication on how it will improve their response times to the immigration customers they supposedly serve to even justify such a drastic increase. “Lastly, to charge $50 for asylum, a humanitarian measure for those fleeing persecution and violence pursuant to the Geneva Convention, is downright scandalous and appears mercenary,” she said.
USCIS operations are almost entirely dependent on the fees it earns from immigration customers, estimated to be at 97 percent. It is hoping to get a fiscal budget of $1.2B from Congress in order to prevent mass layoffs.
Naturalization or citizenship applications will increase by 83 percent, from $640 to $1,170 for paper filings, or $1,160, if filed online. Marriage-based green card applicants will pay $2,860 instead of $1,760, indicating a 60 percent increase.
Non-Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (non-DACA) work permit applications will increase from $410 to $550. Political asylum applicants will be charged a fee of $50, instead of none, under this new regulation.
According to immigration lawyer Cristina Godinez in her immigration blog www.cristinagodinez.com, the money troubles of USCIS started long before the pandemic, pointing to immigration procedures that led to inefficiencies and processing delays.
Godinez wrote: “The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) points to a series of immigration policies and procedures since 2017 that led to inefficiencies within the USCIS. These policies caused processing delays and eventually discouraged applicants and petitioners from submitting their applications and petitions to USCIS.
“For instance, USCIS began requiring in-person interviews for all employment-based cases. In recent years, USCIS has been issuing requests for evidence for documents that have either been already submitted by the applicant or are not material to prove eligibility for the immigration benefit. These policies waste limited resources and stretch case processing times longer than needed.
“USCIS inefficiencies have reached the point where case-processing times increased substantially even as the number of cases filed decreased.
“It is no surprise that with the looming fee increases, applicants and petitioners for immigration benefits find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.”
Godinez suggested that a “good starting point is for Congress to require USCIS to suspend all deadlines and extend all nonimmigrant statuses for at least 90 days beyond the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency, and to permit naturalization oaths to be taken through video.”
Gregory meanwhile opined that “any policy rule on immigration is designed to market or shore up approval ratings of a candidate who has an anti-immigration stance,” pointing out to Pres. Trump’s courting of ‘anti-immigrant votes’ in the November 3 elections.# (Featured photo is the Statue of Liberty from Leani Alnica Auxilio’s Art and Photo Collection. @all rights reserved.)