Re: Docket ID USCIS-2010-0008, OMB Control Number 1615-0116; Agency Information Collection Activities; Revision of a Currently Approved Collection: Request for Fee Waiver; Exemptions
Dear Ms. Deshommes:
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) appreciates the opportunity to comment on revisions proposed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) relating to Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, and related guidance. Notice inviting comment on these proposed revisions (hereinafter, the “Proposed Revisions”) was published September 28, 2018 in the Federal Register.1 If USCIS adopts the Proposed Revisions, it would modify Form I-912 (the “Proposed Form”), revise the accompanying instructions (the “Proposed Instructions”), and rescind and replace its Policy Memorandum entitled “Fee Waiver Guidelines as Established by the Final Rule of the USCIS Fee Schedule; Revisions to Adjudicator Field Manual (AFM) Chapter 10.9, AFM Update AD11-26” 2 (hereinafter, the “2011 Policy Memo”). We call on USCIS to withdraw the Proposed Revisions, which would present barriers to immigrant and refugee children and other survivors of harm who seek to regularize their status and remain safely in the United States. USCIS should instead expand the flexibility of its fee waiver policies.
KIND is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free legal representation and protection to unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children in removal proceedings. Since January 2009, KIND has received referrals for over 17,300 children from 70 countries, and has collaborated with more than 570 pro bono partners to serve such children. KIND promotes protection of children in countries of origin and transit countries and works to address the root causes of child migration from Central America. KIND also advocates for laws, policies, and practices to improve the protection of unaccompanied children in the United States, by educating policymakers, the media, and the broader public about the violence that is driving children out of Central America and their need for protection.
KIND has field offices in ten locations: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, New York, San Francisco/Fresno, Seattle, and Northern Virginia/Washington, DC.
Many children served by KIND have fled their countries of origin because of violence or other threats to their safety, and can demonstrate eligibility for humanitarian relief or other avenues to lawful immigration status. For example, many child victims of persecution and other violence are granted asylum, withholding of removal, or protection under the Convention Against Torture. Other children are eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) on the basis of parental abuse, neglect, abandonment or similar circumstances. Children who are victims of crimes or human trafficking may be found eligible for U or T nonimmigrant status, and abused children of U.S citizens or legal permanent residents may self-petition under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). On the basis of such relief, many children will become eligible for lawful permanent residency, or will become entitled to remain and work lawfully in the United States for an extended period.
Appropriately, the petitions or applications for the types of humanitarian relief described above do not entail filing fees. However, filing fees frequently present a barrier to children who seek to file a motion or appeal to contest the denial of a benefit (Form I-290B), apply for adjustment of status (Form I-485), seek a waiver of grounds of inadmissibility (Form I-601), apply for employment authorization (Form I765), or file other forms necessary to the resolution of their immigration matters. In many instances, children themselves are self-petitioners or principle applicants, rather than derivatives of an application filed by an adult. Many children are supported by caregivers who are also unable to pay the filing fees on a child’s behalf.
The challenges of pursuing immigration status — while also healing from a history of trauma or overcoming language or educational barriers — are often compounded by poverty. Accordingly, a fair and flexible fee waiver adjudication process is an essential ingredient in ensuring that unaccompanied children and other vulnerable immigrants can access the immigration benefits for which they are eligible.
The Proposed Revisions would decrease the flexibility of the fee waiver application process, and envision documentation requirements that would heavily burden indigent persons and the nonprofit organizations that assist them. There is no showing that existing deficiencies necessitate these changes, nor that the Proposed Revisions would significantly enhance the information available to adjudicators. Further, USCIS proposes rescinding the 2011 Policy Memo, without describing the guidance that would replace it. Given KIND’s extensive experience serving indigent applicants for adjustment of status and other immigration benefits, we believe the following comments will assist USCIS in maintaining the integrity, flexibility, and fairness of the fee waiver application and adjudication process.