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BREAKING: Judge Bars DHS From Implementing Unlawful Changes to Fees for Citizenship

USCIS changes to naturalization fee waiver process foreclosed citizenship for some low-income applicants

San Francisco, CA — Today, Judge Maxine Chesney of the Northern District of California issued a nationwide preliminary injunction barring USCIS from implementing changes that would limit access to citizenship for lawful permanent residents (green card holders). The ruling, issued from the bench, halts changes to the naturalization application process that would present significant barriers to citizenship for tens of thousands of non-wealthy applicants each year. The rule went into effect on December 2. 

Judge Chesney ruled that Plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their claim that USCIS failed to properly engage in the notice-and-comment rulemaking required by the Administrative Procedure Act and that the agency’s new rules making it much harder for low-income residents to apply for fee waivers for naturalization and other immigration benefits are invalid as a result. 

STATEMENT FROM SEATTLE MAYOR JENNY A. DURKAN

“I am glad that the Court recognizes the urgent need to block this “pay-to-play” approach to citizenship from taking effect. Wealth is not and should never be a requirement of being an American citizen. Seattle will always fight for the promise of America, and we demand this administration be accountable to our communities and maintain the current fee waiver process.”

STATEMENT FROM JESSICA MARSDEN, COUNSEL FOR PROTECT DEMOCRACY

“Today’s ruling is an encouraging step in the right direction for the health of our democracy. Participation in democracy must not be limited to those who can afford it. All legal residents who live and work here, pay taxes, and want to be Americans—our neighbors, coworkers, and friends—should have fair and lawful access to full membership in our democratic system. This unlawful policy was intended to hurt legal immigrants who have been here for years and we commend the judge for correctly siding with the law.”

STATEMENT FROM JOHN C. YANG, ASIAN AMERICANS ADVANCING JUSTICE | AAJC PRESIDENT AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

“This rule change was about changing the complexion of future immigrants from black and brown to white, and furthering a class-based society that is discriminatory and unwelcoming. Today we stopped that from happening. The Court has forcefully rejected this policy attempt to wash away the time-tested promise on the Statue of Liberty for a country that is accepting of the promise and potential of the tired, poor, and huddled masses who yearn to breathe free in America.”  

Plaintiffs are the City of Seattle and five naturalization legal service providers who serve low-income, citizenship-eligible legal permanent residents: Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), Central American Resource Center of California (CARECEN), Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), OneAmerica, and Self-Help for the Elderly.

More information about the case is available at: https://protectdemocracy.org/project/city-of-seattle-v-dhs/ 

 The complaint can be found at: https://protectdemocracy.org/resource-library/document/complaint-city-of-seattle-v-dhs/

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Protect Democracy is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing American democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government.

Mayer Brown is a distinctively global law firm, uniquely positioned to advise the world’s leading companies and financial institutions on their most complex deals and disputes. The firm offers pro bono legal representation across the spectrum of public interest law, including in such areas as asylum and immigration, housing, public benefits, education, criminal justice reform, social finance and social entrepreneurs, and non-profit organizations.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC is a nonprofit organization with a mission to advance civil and human rights for Asian Americans and to build and promote a fair and equitable society for all. 

The City of Seattle, Washington is Washington State’s largest city and the seat of King County. Seattle created its Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) in 2012 to improve the lives of Seattle’s immigrant families. OIRA funds and coordinates two naturalization programs, the New Citizen Campaign and the New Citizen Program, both aimed at helping the estimated 75,000 Seattle-area LPRs become U.S. citizens. 

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) is the nation’s largest network of nonprofit immigration legal services programs. Its mission is to provide immigration legal services to low-income and vulnerable populations. In service of that mission. CLINIC provides materials, training, and funding to its members, including in particular local organizations that provide naturalization services. 

Central American Resource Center of California (CARECEN) is the largest Central American immigrant rights organization in the country. Its mission is to empower Central Americans and all immigrants by defending human and civil rights, working for social and economic justice, and promoting cultural diversity. As part of this mission, CARECEN offers free legal assistance to eligible immigrants in order to help them apply for citizenship and become civically-engaged citizens. 

Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) is a national nonprofit that works with immigrants, community organizations, legal professionals, and policymakers to build a democratic society that values diversity and the rights of all people. Through community education programs, legal training & technical assistance, and policy development & advocacy, the ILRC protects and defends the fundamental rights of immigrant families and communities. As a key part of its mission, ILRC serves as the lead agency for the New Americans Campaign, a national campaign aimed at increasing the number of “new Americans” by ensuring access to the naturalization process and trusted legal assistance.

OneAmerica is the largest immigrant and refugee advocacy organization in Washington State. Its mission is to advance the fundamental principles of democracy and justice at the local, state, and national levels by building power within immigrant communities, and it focuses on helping eligible immigrants apply for citizenship and become civically engaged citizens. 

Self-Help for the Elderly provides assistance and support for seniors throughout the San Francisco area. As a part of this mission, Self-Help serves as the lead agency for SF Pathways to Citizenship, a partnership between the City of San Francisco and six legal and social services providers. As the lead agency for SF Pathways to Citizenship over the last 5.5 years, Self-Help has been responsible for over 8,000 applications, over 60% of which were filed with fee waivers.