President Donald Trump (274118)
Credit: White House photo

The latest attempt by President Donald Trump’s administration to curb immigration has drawn the ire of organized labor.

Last week the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that starting Dec. 2, it will stop considering use of some public benefits in determining fee waiver eligibility for immigrants. Because of this, fewer immigrants will be able to pay for citizenship applications ($1,225) or green cards ($725). Some of these benefits include Medicaid, CHIP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Security Income.

Under the new criteria, individuals can still request a fee waiver if their documented annual household income is at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or they demonstrate financial hardship. According to the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., up to two-thirds of applicants annually who seek fee waivers will be affected.

Kyle Bragg, president of 32BJ SEIU, said his union condemned the administration for its new attempt to stop immigration involving low-income individuals.

Bragg stated, “As one of the nation’s largest unions with majority immigrant membership, we condemn the Trump administration’s latest attempt to prevent low-income immigrants from realizing the American Dream. On Friday, the administration announced that, starting Dec. 2, immigrants will no longer be allowed to use their enrollment in vital forms of public assistance, such as non-emergency Medicaid, as proof of their need for a fee-waiver to the citizenship application. Catholic Charities estimates this will annually impact up to two-thirds of those applying for waivers to the application, which costs over $1000 a person.”

Advocacy organizations have already announced plans to fight back. Asians Americans Advancing Justice, Protect Democracy, the law firm Mayer Brown and Seattle attorney Pete Holmes are preparing to file a lawsuit in California on behalf of individuals and communities who would be negatively impacted by the UCIS’ actions.

“This rule change is about changing the complexion of future immigrants from Black and Brown to white and furthers a class-based society that is discriminatory and unwelcoming,” stated AAJC President and Executive Director John C. Yang. “We cannot allow our government policies to reject the time-tested promise on the Statue of Liberty of a country that is accepting of the potential of the tired, poor, and huddled masses who yearn to breathe free in America.”

USCIS said that narrowing fee waiver eligibility helps the government save money.

“USCIS relies on fees to cover the costs of adjudicating applications and petitions, implementing operational efforts, and ensuring the nation’s lawful immigration system is properly administered,” said USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli. “USCIS waives hundreds of millions of dollars in fees annually. The revised fee waiver process will improve the integrity of the program and the quality and consistency of fee waiver approvals going forward. Providing clear direction to agency adjudicators for more uniform determinations will help us to uphold our mission of efficiently and fairly adjudicating immigration requests.”

According to USCIS, the annual dollar amount of fee waivers increased from an estimated $344.3 million in fiscal year 2016 to an estimated $367.9 million in FY 2017. In FY 2018, the UCIS granted an estimated $293.5 million in fee waivers. The UCIS states that fee revenues account for more than 95 percent of the USCIS budget.

Even when individuals meet the criteria, USCIS will still require applicants to complete Form I-912 and submit supporting documentation including federal income tax transcripts. USCIS officials said they will not accept a letter stating the applicant can’t afford filing fees or biometric services without a completed Form I-912.

Bragg said the Trump administration’s desire to stop immigration will meet a forceful reaction.

“This is just the latest in a string of attempts by this administration to end immigrant diversity,” said Bragg. “From asylum restrictions to the attempted ‘public charge’ rule, they are a willful assault on the foundation of American democracy itself. We join with all those—Black, Brown and white, rich and poor—who are committed to ending this attempt to bleach our nation of its racial and economic diversity.”