STATEMENT OF CONGRESSMAN BARNEY FRANK: SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATION, CITIZENSHIP, REFUGEES, BORDER SECURITY, and INTERNATIONAL LAW; Subcommittee Oversight Hearing on: "Proposed Immigration Fee Increase"
The recently proposed rule change at the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) should be rejected. Particularly unjustifiable is the fee increase for the I-485, the Application to Register or Adjust Status. The current fee of $325 dollars will, under the Proposed Rule, be increased to $905.00, bringing the total fee for this form to $985.00 after inclusion of fingerprinting costs, which are borne by the applicant.
The I-485 increase according to USCIS is justified to eliminate the interim benefits forms (I-765 employment and I-131 parole). USCIS claims that on average due to delays applicants apply for two employment cards, which cost $180 each, and an advance parole document, which costs $170 while an applicant waits for the processing of the I-485. In my district this is rarely the case. Advanced parole is rarely applied for because most applicants have already accrued more than six months of illegal presence in the United States so that if they leave, even with advanced parole, they would trigger the bar to reentry for at least three years if not ten. Additionally the second employment card in the Boston region is only necessary for the I-485 applications that are stuck in the name/date of birth clearance with the FBI. Otherwise, the I-485 adjustments are taking on average less than six months for the Boston office. The second employment card processing time is taking more time than the immigrant visa interview.
The proposed fee increases push the total cost of permanent residency - excluding the often unavoidable expense of attorney's fees - to nearly $2,000. This places an undue burden on those immigrants seeking permanent status, who are often already in difficult financial circumstances.
The justification given by the USCIS for this proposed increase is that the additional revenue is necessary to reduce processing delays, strengthen security and fraud prevention and investigation efforts, and to clear the extensive backlog of applications. This rationale, however, contains very serious flaws.
In September of 2006, the USCIS announced the elimination of its backlog in naturalization applications. Although these efforts on the part of the USCIS are admirable, they only tell part of the story. The USCIS determines its backlog by counting only those applications that are ready for USCIS adjudication. However, all permanent resident and naturalization applications are subject to FBI review. Because those applications awaiting this review are not yet ready for adjudication, they are determined by the USCIS to be out of its control, and therefore are not reflected in its estimation of backlogged cases. Cases such as these are in no way rare. It would seem, therefore, somewhat disingenuous to call for a fee increase to support the elimination of a backlog which is largely - and by its own admission - out of the control of the USCIS.
Furthermore, in 2006, the USCIS received appropriated funds to address and eliminate its backlog. USCIS should spend these funds efficiently and not put very difficult financial obstacles in the way of immigrants who are complying with the law. Immigrants seeking to become fully legal members of our society are not undesirables and we should not be discouraging them from doing so.