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Bipartisan House group asks for lower immigration fees

Bipartisan House group asks for lower immigration fees
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A bipartisan group of legislators is petitioning immigration authorities to reconsider a hike in naturalization fees proposed in May.

Led by Reps. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the group on Wednesday wrote to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Leon Rodríguez, saying fees have "nearly tripled" in the past decade, leading to "a sharp drop in applications for naturalization."

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"It is imperative that we lower the cost of the naturalization process. When millions of law-abiding people achieve citizenship, our communities benefit and the U.S. economy grows and strengthens," Cárdenas wrote.

The USCIS is bound by statute to pay for most immigration and naturalization services with fees rather than taxpayer money, and is thus primarily financed by fees. The National Law Review reported in June that the USCIS would face a $560 million deficit under the current fee structure.

The letter promises that signing members will work with the Appropriations Committee to seek out $225 million in discretionary funding to process refugee and asylum services, many of which are provided without charge.

Fees make USCIS inaccessible to many immigrants, would-be citizens and naturalized citizens. 

A form to replace a naturalization certificate — an important document that naturalized citizens need to register to vote and apply for a passport — currently costs $345 and is projected to increase to $555.

The process of becoming an American citizen can cost thousands of dollars, taking into account the initial visa process for immigrants, obtaining permanent residence and naturalization. 

A partial waiver of naturalization fees, recognized in the letter, allows permanent residents whose income is between 150 percent and 200 percent of the poverty line to pay half the fee.

“Pursuing citizenship is the ultimate expression of an immigrants’ love for our nation. We should make it easier, not harder, for those who play by the rules to become naturalized Americans and continue contributing to our communities,” Ros-Lehtinen said.