Judge blocks fee hikes for citizenship, immigration; rules acting DHS secretary was illegally appointed

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Leave it to a judge in California to cheapen the cost of U.S. citizenship.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White of the Northern District of California delved into personnel matters within the Department of Homeland Security to temporarily block the Trump administration from raising the cost of citizenship and other immigration applications.


White, a George W. Bush appointee, issued the ruling, stating the last two Homeland Security chiefs were likely appointed illegally, according to the Associated Press.

Eight immigration advocacy groups sued the administration in August after Homeland Security announced the fee hikes.

Samina Bharmal, an attorney representing the immigration groups, argued last week that Wolf did not have the authority to implement the changes due to questions about whether he was properly appointed to the post.

More from the AP:

“[White] found Kevin McAleenan improperly leapfrogged to acting secretary when Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in April 2019. The judge said McAleenan, as Customs and Border Protection commissioner, was seventh in line to assume the acting role under rules of succession at the time.

Chad Wolf, who became acting secretary after McAleenan resigned in November, was also promoted out of order from his position as under secretary for strategy, policy and plans, said White, ruling in Oakland, California.


President Trump nominated Wolf to be secretary on Sept. 10, and his confirmation process is underway in the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was expected to initiate a change in fees on Friday, increasing the cost to apply for citizenship from $640 to $1,160.

A first-ever $50 fee for applying for asylum was included in the change, and asylum-seekers would also have to pay $550 if they sought work authorization and $30 for collecting biometrics.

White blocked the fee hikes on grounds that the Trump administration likely failed to adequately consider the impact of the changes as required under federal rule-making, including their effect on low-income applicants, the AP reported.

The judge agreed with the plaintiffs that the public interest would be served by the stay — the public being foreign nationals.

“If it takes effect, it will prevent vulnerable and low-income applicants from applying for immigration benefits, block access to humanitarian protections, and will expose populations to further danger,” White wrote in his ruling.

He added, “Plaintiffs also cite comments and research that argue the public at large would be harmed if the Final Rule goes into effect because it will negatively impact tax revenues and would delay individuals seeking to naturalize from participating in essential civic activities like voting, service in public office, and jury service. Defendants do not counter those arguments.”

The Trump administration is expected to appeal the judge’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit court to obtain a stay of the nationwide injunction.


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