Immigration courts seek steep fee hikes for appeals, filings

U.S. immigration courts are proposing to raise fees on filings and appeals by hundreds of dollars in a move that immigrant advocates say will block their clients’ access to justice

WASHINGTON — U.S. immigration courts on Friday proposed raising fees on filings and appeals by hundreds of dollars in a move that immigrant advocates said would block their clients’ ability to access justice.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review wants to increase the fee for appealing an immigration judge’s ruling from $110 to $975, arguing the cost of handling the applications far exceeds the price tag.

“Though the proposed fees may seem high as compared to the current fees, the agency has not increased its fees since 1986,” the agency wrote in a notice published in the Federal Register.

The immigration courts are facing an overwhelming backlog of cases and immigrants often wait months or years for a hearing, let alone a decision, on whether they will be allowed to remain legally in the United States.

With a soaring caseload that has surpassed 1 million pending cases, the immigration courts are covering more of the costs. The agency said it cost $31 million to process applications for appeals in the 2018 fiscal year, but it charged only $4 million in fees for those applications.

The agency is also proposing to increase fees for immigrants who are seeking to stay in the country legally after living here more than a decade and who want to reopen cases.

Immigrant advocates blasted the proposal and accused the Trump administration of locking immigrants out of due process by hiking the fees, which they said will prevent people from appealing immigration judges’ decisions.

“The result will be a ‘pricing out’ of justice for many individuals and families,” the American Immigration Lawyers Association said in a statement. The group added that the agency that oversees the immigration courts, which is part of the Department of Justice, is not fee-based.

The agency said in the notice that immigrants can seek a fee waiver if they are unable to pay.

The public can comment on the proposal through March 30.

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