Naturalization Fee Hike Will Put the Dream of U.S. Citizenship Beyond the Reach of Nation's Newcomers

NALEO Educational Fund Calls for President, USCIS and Congress to Provide

Appropriations for Major Agency Improvements

Jan 31, 2007, 00:00 ET from National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials

    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 to improve the timeliness of background checks, modernize its outdated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
     "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