Judge Halts Trump-Issued Court Fee Hikes for Immigrants Facing Deportation

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The Trump administration rule would have increased some immigration court fees by hundreds of dollars. (iStock)

A federal judge this week temporarily blocked several substantial court fee increases for asylum seekers and other immigrants fighting deportation.

The changes, first proposed by the Trump administration last year, were set to go into effect Tuesday, the day before President-elect Joe Biden took office. They would have increased the cost of various immigration court filing fees by hundreds of dollars.

Appealing an immigration judge’s decision, for example, would have risen from $110 to $975 — the biggest of the planned increases under the new rule by the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs immigration courts.

But U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta, in Washington, D.C., halted that and most other new fees from being implemented in a preliminary injunction. Mehta said the changes likely violated a federal rule-making law and would cause plaintiffs irreparable harm.

“The court holds that EOIR acted arbitrarily and capriciously by disregarding the Final Rule’s impact on legal service providers and their capacity to provide legal services to persons subject to removal proceedings,” Mehta wrote in his ruling on Monday.

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Four legal aid organizations in California and elsewhere challenged the fee hikes last month, arguing it would leave less funding for them to cover deportation defense for indigent clients and diminish their capacity to take on new cases.

The plaintiffs also claimed EOIR failed to adequately consider that low-income immigrants would not be able to afford the higher fees to defend themselves in removal proceedings initiated by the U.S. government.

“We are thrilled to learn that a federal judge has put a halt on the Trump administration’s drastic fee increases for immigrants facing deportation,” said Cristina dos Santos, immigration program director at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, one of the plaintiffs.

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“Our immigrant clients are long-time residents of our community and people whose lives are in danger in their home countries. These fee increases would have priced them out of a fair day in court," she added.

Other nonprofits opposing the new fee rule — which could still ultimately be implemented — called on the incoming Biden administration to take steps to reverse it.

In his ruling, Mehta ordered the government to retain the current fee amounts — of up to $110 — for six types of filings, including forms to apply for cancellation of removal and for appealing a Department of Homeland Security officer’s decision. The judge, however, allowed two other fee increases to go into effect — pertaining to certain appeals and motions to reopen cases — concluding they did not cause irreparable harm to plaintiffs.

EOIR did not immediately return a request for comment on the judge’s ruling.

The agency previously stated it had not conducted a thorough review of its fees for more than 30 years, and that the new fee structure better reflects the actual costs of processing those applications.

EOIR Director James McHenry said the fee hikes aimed to save taxpayers nearly $45 million per year.

Last fall, a federal judge for the Northern District of California halted another Trump administration rule that would have sharply increased the cost of applying for immigration benefits such as work permits and naturalization.