By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Jeff L. Khurgel

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security proposed significant fee increases for filing immigration and naturalization applications and petitions. Reeves & Associates (R&A) believes these proposed increases are extreme and unwarranted, placing an unreasonable burden on the immigrant community.

Under the proposal, the fee accompanying an application for adjustment of status to that of a lawful permanent resident (I-485) is almost tripled from $325 to $905. Family petition (I-130) filing fees will almost double, from $190 to $355. Employment-based petition (I-140) filing fees will rise to $475 from the current $195. Petitions to remove conditions (on temporary green cards based on marriages of less than 2 years duration) will be raised from $260 to $465. Further, applications for naturalization heighten from the current $330 to $595.

Drastic fee hikes of this scale are unconscionable. Attorneys at R&A responded within days of the DHS proposal announcement by advocating on behalf of the immigrant community on several fronts. In an open letter to the Incoming Chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and Immigration Subcommittees Edward M. Kennedy and Zoe Lufgren, dated February 7, 2007, R&A explained the devastating consequences that the increased fee proposal will have on the immigrant community. R&A pointed out that although filing fees must be raised occasionally to pay for the processing of applications and petitions, such increases should not be so extreme as to impact an immigrant’s ability to apply for benefits for which they are eligible.

In the open letter, R&A set forth the adverse effects of the fee increase on a typical immigrant family. Namely, we pointed out that a family consisting of a hardworking father with an approved labor certification application, who applies for permanent residency along with his wife and three children, will pay a whopping $10,000 to the DHS in fees. These unconscionable fees will deter undocumented immigrants from legalizing their status. This negatively impacts the United States of America. For instance, many undocumented immigrants do not pay income taxes nor do they have employment sponsored medical benefits which in the end increases taxes and the cost of medical services for American citizens.

Attorneys at R&A also took up the issue of increased fees for immigrants with Congressman Howard L. Berman in a private meeting in February 2007. Congressman Berman is a senior member of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, and has been a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1983.

In a private lunch meeting, Attorneys from R&A, along with other prominent immigration lawyers and immigration proponents, met with Congressman Berman to discuss immigration reform, including earned legalization of undocumented aliens and the DREAM Act.

Following his update on the progress of efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, Congressman Berman elicited comments and questions from the small group of immigration practitioners and community leaders. Attorney Robert Reeves expressed deep concerns about the unreasonable DHS fee increase proposal, pointing out that it would double or triple the current filing fees and represent a financial obstacle to low-income immigrants. Several weeks later, Reeves & Associates followed up with Congressman Berman in a letter, further expressing concern over the harsh burden the proposed fee increases place on people who want to become United States citizens and residents.

In response to the efforts of R&A and the general level of outrage echoing throughout the immigration community regarding the proposed fee increases, Congress has itself expressed concern. The Incoming Chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and Immigration Subcommittees, Edward M. Kennedy and Zoe Lufgren, have now requested that DHS not finalize the proposed increases until Congress can carefully examine the reasoning and methodology used to arrive at its estimates.

Additional action was taken when the House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law requested an oversight hearing. At the hearing, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Dr. Emilio Gonzalez testified before the House Committee in an attempt to address congressional concern. Director Gonzalez attempted to justify the scope and scale of the fee increase, but also acknowledged that the proposed fee structure would increase the costs of obtaining immigration benefits. Director Gonzalez blamed the fee increases on insufficient USCIS funding and stated that the new fees would improve USCIS efficiency and improve the integrity of the immigration system. As an example of supposed increased efficiency, Director Gonzalez cited that the fee increases will reduce processing times by 20% by the year 2009. It is unconscionable that the exorbitant new fees would have such a minimal effect on waiting times for immigrants.

R&A will continue to advocate on behalf of the immigrant community to stop the fee increase proposal which we believe is a government-imposed obstacle to citizenship or legal immigration.