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US To Start Charging Asylum Seekers Application Fees

The US will become just one of just four countries to charge asylum-seekers a fee to apply for protections, according to a finalized policy announced Friday.

The move is just the latest by the Trump administration to target and restrict protections for those fleeing their home countries. The US now joins the ranks of Iran, Fiji, and Australia in charging a fee. In the US, asylum-seekers will be charged $50 on asylum applications starting in October.

“A $50 fee is in line with the fees charged by these other nations,” the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) explained in the final rule posted Friday.

However, one asylum officer who spoke with BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity said the fee was discouraging.

“The larger problem is that humanitarian applications by their nature should be free,” the officer said. “The idea of charging people who are fleeing — and not helping if they don’t pay up — is disgusting.”

Another asylum officer said it will cost the agency more to collect the fee than $50, “which doesn’t come close to covering the cost of adjudicating an asylum application.”

“This is a penalty against asylum applicants,” the officer added.

The asylum fee is just one of many changes included in the rule issued by USCIS, which is primarily funded by immigrants’ applications, such as filing for a green card or work permit. The agency is required to review its fee structure every two years.

The final rule will make it so immigrants seeking to naturalize and applying to become US citizens will have to pay upwards of $1,170, a jump from $640.

Agency officials said Friday the rule was increasing fees for many applications to recoup money it needs to remain functioning.

“USCIS is required to examine incoming and outgoing expenditures and make adjustments based on that analysis,” USCIS deputy director for policy Joseph Edlow said in a statement. “These overdue adjustments in fees are necessary to efficiently and fairly administer our nation’s lawful immigration system, secure the homeland and protect Americans.”

The agency has been in the midst of a financial crisis for the last several months, warning that it will furlough upward of 70% of staff if it does not receive emergency funding from Congress by the end of August.

The reasons for the funding shortage, though have been debated — agency officials cite a massive decline in immigration applications due to the pandemic, while immigrant advocates and experts argue that the Trump administration’s restrictive policies have played a part in the budget issues.

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Immigration judge grants New Haven teen’s asylum request

After ICE detained 18-year-old Mario Aguilar, teachers sent him schoolwork so he wouldn’t fall behind and traveled to court hearings so he’d see a friendly face.

Students saved his seat, made “Free Mario” signs in the school’s print shop and rallied for his release.

Monday, Aguilar’s supporters said they’d finally gotten good news.

“The immigration judge granted asylum in Mario’s case, and we are thrilled with that result,” attorney Ben Haldeman said in an email.

But the teen remains detained. And it’s unclear when he’ll be released.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman said the agency “does not comment on issues/claims/allegations not related to a detainee’s enforcement status without a signed privacy waiver from the individual.” According to the agency’s detainee locator, Aguilar is still being held at the Bristol County House of Corrections in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

ICE attorneys have 30 days after a ruling to tell a judge whether they’ll appeal. And if the agency does appeal, the student could remain detained for months longer, unless officials decide to release him while proceedings continue.

Ann Brillante, an assistant principal at Wilbur Cross, told CNN there’s no reason for officials to delay his release.

“He was no risk to anybody. He was no danger to anybody. He should not have been held ever, at all,” she said.

A bulletin board dedicated to Mario Aguilar hangs in the hallway at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, Connecticut. Since ICE detained Aguilar in September, students, teachers and administrators at the school have been pushing for his release.

Instead of spending more time behind bars, Brillante said her student should be back in class.

“It’s urgent,” she said. “Every minute counts in terms of learning English and in terms of progressing towards graduation.”

Aguilar was born in Guatemala and came to the United States as an unaccompanied minor in 2018. His attorneys say he was fleeing persecution and seeking safety.

ICE deportation officers arrested him in September outside a Connecticut courthouse where he’d gone to face charges after a car accident, including driving under the influence, operating a motor vehicle without a license and failure to insure a private motor vehicle.

An ICE spokesman told CNN earlier this month that he’d been arrested for immigration violations and that removal proceedings were pending.

Advocates for Aguilar say he crashed into a parked car after his cell phone slid off the dashboard and he reached down to pick it up. They argue a sobriety test was never performed and the DUI charge wouldn’t have held up in court.

They’ve been pushing for months for ICE to release him, arguing he’s not dangerous or a flight risk — and deserves to return to his community and continue his studies.

Teachers told CNN they were devastated to learn recently that the homework they’d tried to send never made it to their student. An envelope filled with worksheets was returned to Aguilar’s attorney, stamped “Return to sender. Refused.” A handwritten note on the stamp said, “Unknown name” and “ID# required.”

Without being able to keep up with his schoolwork while detained, Aguilar is behind in his classes, Brillante said. But teachers are eager to get him back on track.

“When he gets back, he gets a clean slate,” she said.

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Immigration: Supreme Court to consider rights of asylum seekers to challenge expedited removal orders

The Trump administration had asked the court to review an opinion of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals that would allow those who have been denied asylum the opportunity to make their claims in federal courts.

If the opinion is ultimately upheld, it could open the doors to more asylum seekers at a time when the administration has attempted to dramatically limit who’s eligible for asylum in the US.

The case centers on Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, a native citizen of Sri Lanka who’s a member of an ethnic minority group. He was arrested 25 yards north of the US-Mexico border and placed in expedited removal proceedings. That fast-track deportation procedure allows immigration authorities to remove an individual without a hearing before an immigration judge.

Thuraissigiam applied for asylum, citing fear of persecution in Sri Lanka, and an asylum officer determined he had not established a credible fear of persecution. A supervising officer and an immigration judge affirmed the decision. Under the law, after the denial, Thuraissigiam was ineligible to challenge the finding.

Thuraissigiam went to federal district court, arguing that the expedited removal violated his constitutional rights. A district court said the law did not authorize the court to hear his claims. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, but said the law violates the Suspension Clause, which, the court held, requires Thuraissigiam, even as a noncitizen, to have a “meaningful opportunity” to demonstrate that he is being held against the law.

The Trump administration argued in briefs that the law — which sharply limits judicial review to final orders of removal — was passed so that the asylum system would not be abused. The law offers some exceptions, but they were not met by Thuraissigiam.

“The Ninth Circuit held that the Suspension Clause provides respondent with a constitutional right to additional review of his application for admission, beyond the review Congress has established,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued in court briefs. He said Thuraissigiam “failed to satisfy even the threshold screening standard.”

A Congressional Research Service report notes that the Supreme Court “has repeatedly held” that the government may exclude immigrants “without affording them the due process protections that traditionally apply to persons physically present in the United States.”
Expedited removal has been a point of contention in recent months, as the Trump administration has moved to expand the procedure and cast a wider net over undocumented immigrants subject to it. A federal judge blocked the move in a separate case last month.

This story has been updated.

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