Second installment of the series about asylum seekers and how the new fee structure makes it harder for eligible people to seek asylum. This is intended to be a daily series.
Let’s start out with USCIS’s description of eligible asylum seekers from the instructions for Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal:
To qualify for asylum, you must establish that you are a refugee who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality, or last habitual residence if you have no nationality, because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. This means that you must establish that race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion was or will be at least one central reason for your persecution or why you fear persecution. (See section 208 of the INA; 8 CFR sections 208 and 1208, et seq.)
Essentially you’re running for your life because the place where you were does not subscribe to the freedoms we have here as described in terms that sound a lot like our first amendment.
My personal take is that this is a reminder that we shouldn’t be complacent. That is to say that we have a right to challenge overwhelming beliefs, and our country is strong enough to be able to withstand criticism, change in cases it’s right to, and respond where it isn’t. And even if change for the better doesn’t happen immediately, open discussion/expression of dissatisfaction leads to future growth.
I mean Susan B. Anthony was a suffragette, and women didn’t get the right to vote until decades after she was dead. She was allowed to speak up, and it’s good she did so.
People who are escaping a situation that isn’t ours who would have been protected here may bring along with them ideas from outside our system that will make our country better. And if the ideas would make our country worse, and we’re strong as a country, not only are we not forced to buy in, but if those people do things that are against our rules, they are subject to the same punitive actions we are.
(Of course this assumes uniform application of legal action, which we know isn’t a real thing, but this asylum series is based in theory with acknowledgment of reality.)
With those things established, we can go into this new $50 fee in more depth.
As it stands right now, our country has joined only three others in the world that charge a fee for asylum seekers. The others are Iran, Fiji, and Australia. Russia charges a fee for a mandatory medical evaluation, but if we have to compare our country to Russia, something has gone horribly awry.
So what’s the rationale for putting a fee on asylum now?
DHS says (emphases mine):
DHS proposed adjustments to USCIS’ fee schedule to ensure full cost recovery. DHS did not target any particular group or class of individuals, or propose changes with the intent to deter requests from low-income immigrants seeking family unity or deterring requests from any immigrants based on their financial or family situation or to block individuals from accessing immigrant benefits. With limited exceptions as noted in the NPRM and this final rule, DHS establishes its fees at the level estimated to represent the full cost of providing adjudication and naturalization services, including the cost of relevant overhead and similar services provided at no or reduced charge to asylum applicants or other immigrants. This rule is consistent with DHS’s legal authorities. See INA section 286(m), 8 U.S.C. 1356(m). DHS proposed changes in fee waiver policies to ensure that those who benefit from immigration benefits pay their fair share of costs, consistent with the beneficiary-pays principle as described in the Government Accountability Office report number GAO-08-386SP.24
In certain instances, DHS deviates from the beneficiary-pays principle to establish fees that do not represent the estimated full cost of adjudication. For example, DHS proposed a $50 fee for Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, when filed with USCIS. This fee deviates from the beneficiary-pays principle by holding the fee well below the estimated cost of adjudication. The $50 fee for affirmative asylum filings is not intended to recover the estimated full cost of adjudication. Instead, it is intended to limit the increase of other fees that must otherwise be raised to cover the estimated full cost of adjudicating asylum applications. Fee adjustments are not intended to advance any policy objectives related to influencing the race or nationality of immigrants, deterring immigration and naturalization, or affecting voting.
24 GAO, Federal User Fees: A Design Guide (May 29, 2008), available at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-386SP. (last accessed Feb. 24, 2020).
This has been a recurring theme from Trump: We’re making bad business deals, and I’m going to make everyone pay us. Whether it’s stating that Saudi Arabia agreed to pay us to use our military as though we’re for hire and not only for the public good or to get Mexico to pay for the wall or prompt NATO nations to pay for defense.
But if the “$50 fee for affirmative asylum filings is not intended to recover the estimated full cost of adjudication,” why charge for it at all?