Looming Fee Increase Could Thwart Many U.S. Citizenship Applications

Yet another Trump administration anti-immigration initiative. Cost matters, and fees need not to pose an excessive financial burden on immigrants:

When Guadalupe Rubio, 41, contracted the coronavirus in July, she struggled to make the few steps to the bathroom in the mobile home that she shared with her teenage daughter in Kent, Wash.

The pandemic had already shuttered her small construction business, which also provided for her parents and three children in Sinaloa, Mexico. Now, the virus left her struggling to breathe, trapped inside without any means to support the six family members who depended on her.

Around the time the pandemic hit Washington State, Ms. Rubio became eligible to apply for United States citizenship. She made a bit too much money to qualify for a reduction in the application fee, currently $640, and the economic effects of the pandemic and her illness sapped away her savings. She applied for food stamps, a benefit that could also provide a break on the fee, but has so far been unable to reach the overwhelmed social services agency that could help her.

If she cannot save the money or obtain a fee waiver before the fall, Ms. Rubio’s prospects of becoming a citizen will become more remote. The Trump administration moved late last month to raise the cost of naturalization applications by more than 80 percent and to substantially tighten eligibility requirements for a subsidized application.

The price for naturalization will jump to $1,160 or $1,170 for online applications. The rule will also lower the income threshold to qualify for a fee waiver and eliminate the partial subsidy for the application.

Almost all other exceptions that allowed immigrants to waive the fee will be eliminated, including extenuating financial hardship and means-tested public benefits, like food stamps. Only some protected immigrants, including victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, will remain eligible.

Ms. Rubio is one of many who would no longer be eligible for a waiver. Immigration lawyers across the country are rushing to submit their clients’ applications to the already backlogged agency before the fee increases are introduced on Oct. 2.

“It’s a low blow during a pandemic,” Ms. Rubio said through a translator. “I have worked a lot for this country, and if I’m a citizen, I can — not just contribute more — but I can also better reap the benefits of all of my hard work in this country.”

Advocates for immigrants say the fee increase is intended to stymie legal immigration and deprive immigrants of their right to vote before the election in November.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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