Statement of AILA on Proposed USCIS Fee Increase and the President’s Proposed FY2005 Budget

American Immigration Lawyers Association

February 3, 2004

Contact: Judith Golub
(202) 216-2403
or Julia Hendrix
(202) 216-2404

Not Up to the Challenge
Statement of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on Proposed USCIS Fee Increase and the President's Proposed FY 2005 Budget

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) bureau of the Department of Homeland Security today proposed increases in fees for immigration applications of up to 55%. These fees cover almost all of the bureau's expenses. However, at a time when the quality of service is at an historic low, increases of this magnitude are difficult to justify. Processing backlogs have reached crisis proportions, while the agency wastes resources revisiting issues already resolved and harassing honest petitioners with requests for paperwork unrelated to their immigration eligibility. Making matters worse, the public's only available avenue to resolve government errors and problems is a contractor-run 800 number that has proven to be useless to deal with these issues.

Adding insult to injury, the proposed fee increase would force applicants to pay for these failures. As USCIS loses files, errs on more and more applications, and provides no viable avenue to resolve problems, lawsuits to force action have increased. The proposed budget for USCIS factors the costs of these suits into the fees by proposing a surcharge to pay for them. The Equal Access to Justice Act mandates that government agencies pay certain costs when they take a substantially unjustified position in litigation. USCIS proposes to evade this law by forcing the very people who are harmed by its actions or inaction to pay the costs of the agency's unjustified positions.

The Department also has announced that it intends to outsource the immigration information officer (IIO) function and factors into the proposed fee increase the cost of conducting an expensive study of this problematic initiative. Despite numerous problems associated with contracting out the deeply flawed 800 number system, the USCIS budget would mandate that applicants pay the costs of this study to expand this failed concept to cover all user assistance functions.

In January 1998, the Commissioner of the INS, USCIS's predecessor, stated that the fee increase announced at that time would not be implemented until applicant wait times started to decrease. Today, no such reticence is shown. Even though the ordinary wait times on many applications are double or triple today what they were in 1998, USCIS offers no such concession to those who must pay increasing amounts for deteriorated service. AILA urges the Director of the USCIS to follow the example of his predecessor and demonstrate good faith by foreswearing the fee increase until the pandemic backlogs throughout the agency are noticeably decreased.

The Bush Administration's proposed FY 2005 budget for USCIS only deepens our concerns with the $140 million included for the bureau. Such a sum recognizes neither current challenges nor realities. AILA long has supported direct Congressional appropriations to supplement user fees: USCIS adjudications and security checks are in the national interest and such appropriations are necessary to ensure a rational and predictable funding stream. The President's proposed budget is going in the wrong direction. The $140 million marks a 41% reduction from the inadequate $236 million the bureau received in FY 2004. Furthermore, Administration spokespersons have indicated their goal of covering costs wholly with fee revenue. AILA calls on the Administration to conduct a study to determine what level of funding is necessary to adequately support USCIS's adjudications functions, eliminate the backlog, and put this bureau on sound financial footing. Both the Administration and Congress need to step up to the plate and recognize that the current funding system is deeply flawed and needs to be changed.

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Founded in 1946, AILA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides its Members with continuing legal education, information, and professional services. AILA advocates before Congress and the Administration and provides liaison with the DHS and other government agencies. AILA is an Affiliated Organization of the American Bar Association.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 04020311.