WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund issued the following statement in response to the announcement by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services of a proposed increase in the fee for naturalization: "The NALEO Educational Fund strongly condemns the exorbitant increase in the fee for naturalization proposed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), because it will put the dream of U.S. citizenship beyond the reach of many of our nation's newcomers. Under the USCIS' proposal, the fees for starting the naturalization process will soar from $400 to $675, an increase of 69%. The agency anticipates that the fee hike will go into effect sometime in June. "The naturalization fee has grown dramatically since 1991, when legal permanent residents paid $90 to file their applications. The increases are a result of fundamental flaws in our nation's system of financing immigration services. The USCIS is supposed to set fees at a level that it will allow it to recover the costs of processing applications. However, agency policies and Congressional mandates are forcing newcomers' fees to cover massive expenditures for major infrastructure investments and process improvements that are driving fees to a level that immigrants simply cannot afford. For example, according to the USCIS, the agency needs to raise fees to improve the timeliness of background checks, modernize its outdated business systems by upgrading and enhancing its technological capabilities, improve USCIS facilities and enhance its personnel training and recruitment programs. The USCIS also announced that it intends to improve the average processing time for the Form N-400 naturalization application from seven to five months. "The NALEO Educational Fund acknowledges that the USCIS does need to make major investments to enhance the delivery of its services, and that the agency faces serious fiscal challenges. However, we believe that our system for funding immigration services should be a partnership where applicants pay a reasonable fee for quality service. Thus, we call on the President and Congress to address the fundamental problems in this system by providing appropriations to supplement fee revenue to cover costs of major USCIS expenses such as infrastructure investments, process enhancements and capital improvements. In the past, Congress has appropriated monies to assist the USCIS in facing challenges such as its application processing backlog. As the agency continues to face critical challenges in improving services, it is time for Congress to act again. We are deeply concerned that the USCIS appears reluctant to pursue new appropriations, and we urge the USCIS to demonstrate leadership in this process by asking the President and Congress to include such appropriations in the federal budget. "Congress, the NALEO Educational Fund and the American public will carefully examine the estimates and methodology used by the USCIS to justify an increase of this magnitude. The USCIS must provide a 60-day period for the public to provide comments on its fee proposal, and we urge the agency to thoroughly review those comments and give serious consideration to the concerns raised as it decides what the final amount of the application fee will be. We will also be carefully monitoring the agency's implementation of its business system enhancements to ensure that it follows through with its commitment to improve services to newcomer applicants. "According to data published by the Office of Immigration Statistics, there are about 8 million legal permanent residents in our nation who are eligible to naturalize and about half of these are Latino. USCIS data also reveal that the number of naturalization applications filed with the agency increased from 602,972 in Fiscal Year 2005 to 730,642 in FY 2006, an increase of 21%. Newcomers are eager to pursue the dream of U.S. citizenship, but the fee hike will place an unfair and nearly insurmountable obstacle in the path of hardworking families with limited financial resources. According to 2000 U.S. Census data, about three out of four Mexican and Central American non- citizen households (74%) have annual incomes of less than $25,000. "In his recent State of the Union address, the President emphasized the value of upholding the nation's tradition that welcomes and "assimilates" new arrivals. The USCIS' proposed fee increase is contrary to the spirit of this tradition and sends newcomers the wrong message at a time when they are seeking to embrace U.S. citizenship. Immigrants who apply for naturalization are eager to demonstrate their commitment to this country by becoming full participants in our nation's civic life. If they cannot become U.S. citizens because of an unfair fee hike, we may all lose an opportunity to strengthen and revitalize our democracy. The $675 price tag is too high for our newcomers, and ultimately, our whole nation will have to pay the price." About the NALEO Educational Fund The NALEO Educational Fund is the leading organization that facilitates full Latino participation in the American political process, from citizenship to public service. The NALEO Educational Fund is a non-profit, non-partisan organization whose constituency includes the more than 6,000 Latino elected and appointed officials nationwide.
SOURCE National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials