Immigration Lawsuit for Fee Waivers

Immigrant Rights

Civil Rights Organization Sues Federal Immigration Agencies for Enhanced Transparency in Immigration Fee Waiver Process

Lawsuit Seeks Clarity on Opaque Fee Waiver Determinations

Lawyers for Civil Rights (“LCR”) filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) for failing to produce records regarding the criteria and processes used to approve applications for fee waivers for essential immigration protections, including employment authorization documents (“EAD”), Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), and naturalization. The lawsuit, filed under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), follows a public records request submitted by LCR nearly a year ago. The case is now in federal court in Boston.

Fee waivers are critical for many low-income immigrants, alleviating the financial burden of application fees for EAD, TPS, and naturalization. However, the process for obtaining these waivers is often unclear and inconsistent. Since 2013, USCIS has received around 500,000 fee waiver requests annually, and arbitrarily denies at least one in nine applications. 

For newly arrived immigrants, who are economically vulnerable, fee waivers are a lifeline when simultaneously applying for immigration protections such as TPS and EAD that come with exorbitant fees. Without fee waivers, many eligible immigrants are unable to obtain the documentation needed to live and work legally in the U.S. Similarly, high naturalization fees and fee waiver denials exclude many eligible low-income individuals from applying for U.S. citizenship. Studies show that naturalization rates increase by over 40% when fee waivers are available.

Policymakers recognize immigrants’ roles in bridging the post-pandemic labor gap. To maintain this upward momentum, federal agencies must make work authorization and immigration protection accessible to all eligible applicants, which cannot occur without fair and equal access to fee waivers. This financial burden will only grow with the new USCIS fee schedule, effective April 1, 2024, which significantly increases fees.

“Transparency in the fee waiver process is essential. Immigrants deserve to understand the criteria and procedures for granting fee waivers. The current lack of clarity erodes trust in our immigration system and places undue hardship on vulnerable individuals,” said Mirian Albert, Senior Attorney at LCR and one of the attorneys in the lawsuit filed today. 

The lawsuit underscores broader issues of transparency and accountability within immigration agencies. In March 2023, LCR filed a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection and DHS for their failure to produce records regarding how humanitarian parole requests are handled. By bringing these lawsuits, LCR illuminates processes that significantly affect immigrants’ lives and advocate for policies that promote justice and equality.

“Through this lawsuit, we seek detailed information on the guidelines and criteria used by USCIS and DHS to evaluate and grant fee waivers, aiming for fair and equitable administration of these waivers,” said Andrew Radsch, partner at Ropes & Gray LLP, who is leading a team of attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

The case filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts is Lawyers for Civil Rights v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al. (D. Mass.), Docket No. 24-CV-11620. 

The complaint is available here