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Federal judge blocks increase in fees for citizenship, immigration applications

The fee changes would have increased the cost to apply to become a U.S. citizen from $640 to $1,160 on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang administers the oath during a naturalization ceremony at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.
U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang administers the oath during a naturalization ceremony at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A federal judge in California ruled in favor of immigration groups, including the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, who challenged a new rule that would have increased by 81% the cost to apply to become a U.S. citizen.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White granted a motion Tuesday that will stop U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from imposing the fee changes that were expected to go into effect Friday. Though the ruling was made in California, the decision calls for the fees to be blocked across the country pending the outcome of the lawsuit because of the various local and state governments that argued against the fee changes.

USCIS declined to comment late Tuesday, saying the agency was reviewing the ruling on the temporary injunction.

In the past couple of weeks, immigrants in the Chicago area have rushed to submit immigration applications before the government imposed the changes. The fee to apply for citizenship would have increased from $640 to $1,160.

Fred Tsao, of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said Tuesday’s decision shows that the changes were poorly explained and “severely flawed.”

“This is a victory for all immigrants who aspire to citizenship but who would have been priced out under this fee schedule,” Tsao said in an email.

Last week, a virtual hearing was held to discuss the injunction. Samina Bharmal, an attorney representing the immigration groups, argued that Chad Wolf, the acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, does not have the authority to implement the changes because of legal questions surrounding whether he was properly appointed to the post.

But the government defended Wolf’s appointment and argued the immigration groups were merely speculating about how much the changes would affect the groups’ finances.

The federal lawsuit filed by the immigration groups challenging the fee rule remains pending. The next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 4.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.