Wednesday, February 21, 2007

throw in the towel?

The AP has a story this week about a proposed fee increase for green card applications:

And now her plans -- and those of many other immigrants -- could be pushed out of reach by a proposal to increase the filing fees for more than two dozen forms by an average of 66 percent. The increases are likely to be implemented by summer.

"It was a huge amount of money for me," she said. "I went into overdraft to do it, but what else can I do -- throw in the towel, just give up?"

The $350 Nikitina paid this year to the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services would go up to $645 annually. That is just for filing the forms to renew her work and travel permits.

For the vast majority of legal immigrants who are just starting the residency application process that Nikitina already has under way, the fees for filing forms and for being fingerprinting would go from $935 to $1985. Some people are allowed to file for free, including members of the military and refugees.

"A lot of them are making very difficult choices, between food and bills and rent and these fees, plus whatever they have to pay an attorney," said Susan Bowyer, managing attorney at the International Institute of the East Bay, a nonprofit organization that gives newcomers cut-rate legal help. "Even with our reduced fees, it would be a real hardship."

The federal agency, required by Congress to support its operations with fees, plans to use the funds to reduce lengthy delays in processing certain applications, strengthen its security and fraud investigations teams, and modernize equipment, said agency spokeswoman Sharon Rummery.

Some of the agency's goals -- speeding up processing, putting files online instead of in boxes and clearing the backlog -- are in the applicants' interest, she said.

"We've come very far," she said. "There used to be lines that would go around the block. We don't have that anymore."

However, immigrants and their attorneys fear the hikes will hurt people who are trying to follow the rules, stalling their immigration process or delaying their ability to bring over close relatives.
Referring to applicants for permanent residence as “legal immigrants who are just starting the residency application process,” as this article does, is not accurate in most cases. Most of them are really “intending legal immigrants” who are not likely to be deported provided they cross their “t’s” and dot their “i’s” and are eligible to adjust their status to lawful permanent residence, but whose status in the U.S. is not yet legal.

Many people who are here out of status—which is how USCIS refers to illegal immigrants—have no route to legal status, either because they entered the country without inspection, overstayed a visa, missed a deportation hearing, or simply have no family members here to sponsor them. That’s just the way the law works. There is a general sense among both immigrants and the general population that if someone comes into the country legally (for instance, on a visitor’s visa), doesn’t break any laws, and works hard and pays taxes, they will be able to legalize their status somehow. That simply isn’t the case for a great many people.

For most of those who are eligible to apply for permanent residence, doubling and, in some cases, tripling the required fees is a huge burden. This is not likely to encourage more people to legalize their status and come out from the shadows. Once again, the government’s stated aim of promoting compliance with the law is at odds with the policies it is enacting. If your goal is to further undermine the viability of the current immigration system in order to promote legislative change, then this would be a good strategy.

Noting also that this NY Times article about how more effective border enforcement is leading to fewer arrests of illegal immigrants, there’s this quote from an immigrant about the new tactics:
“It’s harder and harder, and that’s the reason why people are dying in the desert,” said Miguel PĂ©rez, a 24-year-old migrant from Guerrero State. “It makes no sense."
The reporter does not bother to follow up on this, although a recent study shows that stricter policies since 1996 have led to thousands of deaths in the desert. For all we know, deaths have gone up even more since the new enforcement tactics, but we won’t find out one way or the other from reading the Times. The article also does not mention one likely consequence of stepped up border enforcement, which is that those immigrants already here will just stay here rather than going back home periodically to see their families.

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