Trump Administration Accused of Weaponizing Government Fees With New Asylum Seeker Charge

The Trump administration has been accused of seeking to "weaponize" government fees against asylum seekers and immigrants trying to build a life in the U.S. over its plan to implement new immigration application fees.

In a press release published Friday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency noted that fees collected and deposited into its Immigration Examinations Fee Account fund nearly 96 percent of the agency's budget.

"Unlike most government agencies, USCIS is fee-funded," the press release said, announcing its proposal to adjust USCIS IEFA fee schedules by a weighted average increase of 21 percent "to ensure full cost recovery."

"Current fees would leave the agency underfunded by approximately $1.3 billion per year," USCIS said.

The proposed increases would see citizenship fees surge more than 60 percent, rising from $725 to $1,170, according to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, asylum seekers would be charged $50 for applications to seek refuge in the U.S., in addition to $490 fees in order to obtain work permits.

In a statement shared with Newsweek, the co-founders of Boundless Immigration, a firm seeking to help people navigate the U.S.'s immigration system, calling the Trump administration's bid asserting that raising fresh barriers for immigrants and asylum seekers a "short-sighted decision."

"Once again, this administration is attempting to use every tool at its disposal to restrict legal immigration and even U.S. citizenship," said Boundless Immigration co-founder Doug Rand. "It's an unprecedented weaponization of government fees."

"Putting up barriers to naturalization is an economically short-sighted decision for the whole nation, as recognized by past administrations of both parties," fellow co-founder Xiao Wang added.

"All research points to naturalization leading immigrants to further integrate into American society, earn higher incomes, and pay more in taxes," Wang said. "These are people who have waited years or sometimes decades to become U.S. citizens."

However, USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli defended the decision in a statement published by the agency. He said that "USCIS is required to examine incoming and outgoing expenditures, just like a business, and make adjustments based on that analysis."

"This proposed adjustment in fees would ensure more applicants cover the true cost of their applications and minimizes subsidies from an already over-extended system," he said.

"Furthermore, the adjudication of immigration applications and petitions requires in-depth screening, incurring costs that must be covered by the agency, and this proposal accounts for our operational needs and better aligns our fee schedule with the costs of processing each request," Cuccinelli said.

The proposed rule will be expected to have a month-long comment period.

If it is implemented, it would make the U.S. one of the few countries in the world that charges asylum seekers application fees.

A woman takes the oath of allegiance during a naturalization ceremony at the district office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on January 28, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey. The Trump administration is proposing new fees for asylum seekers and people looking to become U.S. citizens. John Moore/Getty