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Judge Temporarily Blocks Steep Fee Increase For US Citizenship Application

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Immigrants await their turn for green card and citizenship interviews at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office in New York. (John Moore/Getty Images)
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Major fee increases for citizenship and other immigration benefits were blocked late Tuesday under a nationwide injunction.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was set to increase the cost of applying for U.S. citizenship by more than 80%, from $640 to $1,170, starting this Friday.

A federal judge with the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction putting the fee hike on hold, saying that the Trump Administration had failed to justify the increases as required by law. Also blocked were changes like a first-ever fee of $50 for those applying for asylum.

The judge also questioned the legitimacy of the fee increases under the acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, who was not properly appointed to the position.

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The decision came as the result of a lawsuit filed this summer by a coalition of immigrant rights organizations.

Among the plaintiffs is the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, whose executive director Angelica Salas told LAist that the steep fee hikes would have served only a small number of affluent immigrants, "the wealthy immigrants who can pay these enormous fees that determine these kind of legal benefits," she said.

"Legal petitions would be absolutely out of reach of moderate-income and low-income communities," Salas said.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is a "fee funded" agency and has raised fees for naturalization and other services in the past, but this citizenship fee increase was especially steep: The last time naturalization application fees increased in 2016, during the Obama administration, they went up about 21 percent.

In addition to fee increases, those who have already applied for U.S. citizenship in recent years have been facing much longer wait times.

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