Sharp Hike in Citizenship Costs

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The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) strongly opposes the major increase that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has proposed for citizenship and other immigration applications.  This increase, which could increase the fee for citizenship from $400 to $675, would create a Second Wall blocking citizenship for many legal immigrants.
In 1998, the cost to apply for citizenship was only $95.  In 2002,
after the Bush Administration took office, the costs (including fingerprinting fees) went up from $250 to $310.  The total fees are now $400, a fourfold increase in the past eight years.  In 2004, USCIS even began increasing fees automatically each year.
The burden lies with the immigration service to justify this huge increase.  “We cannot believe that the costs of processing a citizenship application have gone up 70 percent in only three years,” said Fred Tsao, policy director at ICIRR.  While USCIS is claiming that it needs more revenue to pay for and improve its operations, it has refused to seek funding from Congress to help pay for its operations.  “USCIS director Emilio Gonzalez has said that his agency is a ’business.’” Tsao noted.  “But no business relies just on fees or sales revenues, and the immigration service should not do so either.”
Meanwhile, immigrant families already struggle to save enough to pay these fees, and often already put off applying until they can afford to pay.  “Gonzalez repeatedly says that US citizenship is ‘priceless,’ and that immigrants would be willing to pay whatever the cost,” Tsao added.  “But raising fees still higher will only put citizenship further out of reach for thousands of immigrants, especially for the most vulnerable.”
ICIRR is encouraging all Legal Permanent Residents to apply NOW before the fee increases.  ICIRR administers the New Americans Initiative (NAI), a partnership with the State of Illinois that assists Illinois immigrants to become US citizens. The program also encourages immigrants to independently initiate their naturalization process.
Since NAI started in 2005, citizenship applications in the USCIS Chicago District have risen 32%. “People are making a huge effort to apply for citizenship already,” said Karla Avila, NAI Director.  “They understand the importance of doing it now.  It’s not fair that the government is putting more barriers for people that want to become Americans.”
NAI will is organizing a series of regional citizenship workshops in Feb. in Moline, Peoria, La Salle, Galesburg and Beardstown among other places throughout the state.  At these workshops, community organizations will provide assistance in filling out the citizenship application, including free legal screening and referral for ESL and citizenship classes.  Appointments MUST be scheduled in advance by calling 1-800-298-3235 ext. 104 or ext. 107.   For complete list of dates and times of the citizenship workshop closest to you, please refer to the Feb. Regional Clinic Schedule on the side.  In addition, ICIRR is training volunteers to help legal permanent residents fill out their citizenship applications. “This is a state of emergency, and we need to help as many people as we can to become US citizens before the fee increase takes place,” Avila added.
“Like so many people across Illinois, I am a first generation American.  I will always be proud that my parents worked hard and sacrificed to reach the American Dream,” stated State Senator Martin Sandoval, key leader of the immigrant community and advocate for NAI.  “USCIS should be encouraging immigrants to seek citizenship, not putting up more barriers in their way.”
For more information visit the ICIRR’s website at www.icirr.org.

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