Penniless Refugees Oppose Asylum Fees

Immigrant Rights
Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) with pro bono assistance from WilmerHale filed a comment yesterday opposing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) creation of an asylum application fee. The first of its kind, the application fee would condition humanitarian relief on the ability to pay.
For our clients, who are literally penniless, the proposed fee creates an insurmountable barrier to safety and protection. Brutally displaced by armed conflicts and climatic cataclysms, vulnerable refugees are fleeing humanitarian crises. Many refugees are living in camps where they do not even have access to potable water let alone money. For these refugees, who cannot afford to pay, the mandatory nature of the proposed fee operates as a complete bar to applying for relief.
The proposed rule provides that a refugee must pay a $50, non-waivable fee to file a affirmative asylum application (Form I-589). This is particularly harmful to families with young children who are each subjected to this onerous fee.  
The proposed fee is ill-advised and unprecedented as a humanitarian matter in imposing an additional burden on the most vulnerable refugees. It is alarming that petitions for asylum will be denied for non-payment at their threshold step, even prior to any consideration of the merits. This creates a wealth-based immigration system that violates legal protections under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution, and international law as expressed in the United Nations conventions relating to refugees.