Many folks will be watching the State of the Union to hear what President Trump might say about immigration. The latest White House proposal has two key numbers – 1.8 million is how many so-called Dreamers could be put on a path to citizenship, and 25 billion is how much funding the Trump Administration wants for border security, including building a wall.
Every time a person goes through a step of the immigration process towards citizenship, there are fees. Altogether, they are in the thousands of dollars. It seems Dreamers becoming citizens would bring billions of dollars into U.S. coffers – so couldn’t that help pay for a wall?
Elaine Kamarck would know. She’s a researcher with the Brookings Institution, a lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a former White House aide during the Clinton administration as it implemented President Ronald Reagan’s immigration reform, which made about 3 million people eligible for amnesty.
Kamarck says raising immigration fees could have negative consequences since, for instance, DACA recipients are young and typically aren’t making that much money yet.
“The more you increase the fees, the more you dissuade people from applying for citizenship, and they go on sort of living in the shadows,” she says.
Plus, Kamarck says there’s not much room for the fees to increase.
“The fees have already gone way up,” she says. “The fees are already $680 – that’s just the minimum fee to the government for processing. And many people hire immigation lawyers, so that can add thousands of dollars to the process.”
She says that the fees are currently set so that the immigration service is able to pay for itself. The applicants’ fees cover about 90% of the operations to run the immigration service. That’s why she says using fees to pay for building the wall isn’t a good plan.
“It’s probably bad math,” she says, “because what people applying for citizenship now pay for is they pay for the process of applying for citizenship. So unless we were to completely close the door and never have any more immigrants, which I doubt we would do, you still have to pay for an infrastructure to pay for processing immigration papers. So diverting that to a wall doesn’t make much sense because you’d still have to have money to pay for immigration processing.”
Written by Jen Rice.