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'Fundamentally Inequitable': Democratic Lawmakers Decry Trump's Proposal to Hike Immigration Fees

"When viewed as a whole," the lawmakers wrote, the slate of changes "appears to be a pretext to make the U.S. immigration system inaccessible to working class families and children."

A group of Democratic lawmakers including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) wrote a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to explain their opposition to the Trump administration's proposal to significantly hike fees for immigrants. (Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A group of Democratic lawmakers on Monday outlined their opposition to a Trump administration proposal which would increase application and petition fees for immigrants and asylum seekers, calling the plan "fundamentally inequitable and contrary to our nation's values."

Under the proposed rule, published Nov. 14 in the Federal Register, the U.S. would be one of just four countries in the world that charge asylum-seekers for entry. An 83 percent increase in the naturalization fee, a 55 percent increase in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewal fee, a 20 percent increase in employment authorization application fees, and an elimination of some fee waivers were also included in the proposal, which was panned by immigrant rights advocates as "outrageous" and "simply barbaric." 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), House Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (N.Y.), House Homeland Security Appropriations Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.), and Senate Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration Ranking Member Dick Durbin (Ill.) expressed their concerns in a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is an agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

DHS's explanation for the fee changes is unsatisfactory and because of the proposal's disproportionate impact on working class families, the plan "ignores clear congressional intent to create a fair and accessible immigration system," wrote the lawmakers.

"We are particularly troubled by DHS's proposal to transfer roughly $112 million per year in immigration benefits fees to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)," they added.

"Over the last few years, Congress has denied DHS's requests to transfer such fees to ICE, and it has continued to fully fund ICE's operations by direct appropriation of discretionary funds," the lawmakers wrote. "The proposed transfer runs contrary to this clear congressional intent, as well as clear congressional intent in separating the department's immigration adjudication functions from its enforcement functions."

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"When viewed as a whole," the letter continued, "DHS's proposed fee increase, coupled with the elimination of most fee waivers, appears to be a pretext to make the U.S. immigration system inaccessible to working class families and children."

Monday marked the final day for the comment period on the proposal.

President Donald Trump's immigration policies and rhetoric—including putting children in cages and tear-gassing migrants—have drawn scrutiny from human rights advocates throughout his time in office. 

"The administration has literally every month enacted new fundamental restrictions on the rights of immigrants and in particular, the rights of asylum-seekers at the border," ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told CBS News this week.

"What we saw during the family separation crisis is that public outcry was just as critical as the court actions," added Gelernt, "and that ultimately what we need, and what every civil rights movement needs, is the public to come out and forcefully say that they don't want this thing done in their name."

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