DHS Plans Deep (and Possibly Illegal) Discount on Amnesty Application Fees for DREAMers

By Jessica M. Vaughan on August 1, 2012

It appears that the Obama administration is planning to offer the DREAM amnesty to many young illegal aliens either deeply discounted or free, charging fees only to those who apply for a work permit, according to an internal DHS memo obtained by the Associated Press. If this turns out to be the case, then DHS could be in violation of federal law, which requires the immigration agency to set fees for the services and benefits that it dispenses and stipulates that the fees must cover the entire cost of providing the benefit.

The memo, as reported by AP, suggests a "paperwork fee" of $465. I haven't seen the original memo, but this sum is exactly equal to the current fees established for work permits ($380) and fingerprinting ($85). So this proposed "paperwork fee" of $465 will not cover the cost of adjudicating the deferred action application, which is the first and most important step in the process — determining if the illegal alien qualifies.

By way of comparison, the fees to sponsor and process the application of someone who legally adjusts their status from illegal alien to permanent resident are: $420 for the petition to establish eligibility through a qualifying family relationship plus $985 for the adjustment of status application plus $85 for fingerprints plus $380 for the work permit (optional) and possibly another $585 for the waiver of ineligibility to be adjudicated, totaling between $1,490 and $2,455, depending on the needs of the applicant. This is two to five times what the DREAMers apparently will be paying for a similar transaction.

Immigration fees are set using an established methodology that determines the actual cost to process the different types of applications. According to the DHS memo, they are expecting one million applicants or more, or about 3,000 new applications to process every day. The final rules have yet to be announced, but immigration officers supposedly will need to determine that applicants are under age 31, arrived in the United States before age 16, have lived here for five years, attended school or served in the military, and have not amassed a "serious" criminal record. Presumably the DREAMers will be issued some form of documentation that they have benefited from this amnesty, which supposedly expires after two years.

It is difficult to see how this work possibly can be accomplished within current USCIS resources, which come almost entirely from application fees (while several of the DHS agencies can grant deferred action, in this case most of them will be processed by USCIS). It seems most likely that the agency will have to siphon resources from the fees paid by legal immigrants and their sponsors. This is wrong. Why shouldn't the DREAMers have to pay the full cost of processing their applications? It will be fascinating to hear how DHS rationalizes robbing Peter, the legal immigrant, to pay for Paul, the illegal DREAMer.