Sunday, May 2, 2021
Immigration Article of the Day: Entrance Fees: Self-Funded Agencies and the Economization of Immigration by Daimeon Shanks
This article examines the financing structure of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an executive branch administrative agency that is almost entirely funded by fees paid by applicants and petitioners for immigration benefits. This article interrogates the fundamental economic and normative justifications for the use of user fees in the immigration context to argue that the USCIS’s funding structure is both inapt and ineffective at implementing Congress’s immigration policies. Moreover, by effectively shielding the executive branch from budgetary oversight, these user fees fund operations that are misaligned with Congress’s intent for the USCIS, which frustrates the constitutional system of checks and balances based on separation of powers principles.
In short, the legal and economic rationales that have traditionally been used to justify user-fee funding for administrative agencies—to manage the availability of public goods, to control or promote externalities, to overcome information disparities, and to deter natural monopolies—all fail on their own terms as they do not reflect the realities of the immigration system. Two further justifications—notions of fairness and instrumental revenue enhancement—are more plausible conceptually and are thus more often invoked but are themselves fundamentally misaligned with the realities of the immigration and naturalization process.