U.S. judge blocks rate hike for citizenship

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A federal judge on Tuesday stopped a significant increase in fees for obtaining U.S. citizenship and other immigration benefits three days before its entry into force and noted that the last two heads of the Department of Homeland Security were likely to be unlawfully appointed.

U.S.: Federal judge blocks rising immigration costs

District Judge Jeffrey White found that Kevin McAleenan was unduly catapulted into the position of interim secretary when Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in April 2019. According to the federal magistrate, McAleenan, as Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, was seventh in line to take office in accordance with the succession rules at the time.

The rise of Chad Wolf, who became interim secretary following McAleenan’s resignation in November 2019, was also not in line as Deputy Secretary of Strategy, Policy and Planning.

White, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush in Oakland, California, also blocked the rate increase on the grounds that the Donald Trump administration probably failed to justify its decision as required by federal law.

Neither the Department of Homeland Security nor the Department of Justice responded immediately to requests for comment on Tuesday night. Homeland Security has already disagreed in August with a similar finding by the Office of Government Responsibility, a Congressional investigative agency that determined that McAleenan, Wolf, and Ken Cuccinelli—the department’s second-highest-ranking official—were unlawfully appointed.

Trump nominated Wolf for the post of secretary on September 10, but the Senate has yet to confirm the post.

Citizenship and Immigration Services fees — the agency responsible for granting citizenship, permanent residence cards, and temporary work permits — were expected to increase by an average of 20% on Friday.

The changes included a new $50 fee for seeking asylum. Asylum seekers also had to pay $550 if they wanted a work permit and $30 to collect their biometric data.

The fee for becoming a U.S. citizen was going to rise to $1,170 from the current 640, and exemptions for those who say they can’t address that spending were mostly going to be eliminated.

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