USCIS changes to naturalization fee waiver process forecloses citizenship for some low-income applicants
Washington, DC — Today, Protect Democracy, Advancing Justice-AAJC, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, and Mayer Brown LLP have filed suit in California on behalf of organizations and communities who will be irreparably harmed by changes to the naturalization process that will present significant barriers to citizenship for tens of thousands of non-wealthy applicants each year.
The new rules, announced Friday, will make it much harder to qualify for a fee waiver, and will severely curtail naturalization applications, particularly from low-income applicants. Recent research from Stanford University’s Immigration Policy Lab suggests that the new rules could reduce the number of naturalization applications filed each year by as much as 10 percent.
Immigrants are typically not eligible to naturalize until they have lived as lawful permanent residents in the United States for five years, speak English, understand U.S. history and civics, and demonstrate a commitment to the U.S. Constitution. There is also a $725 application fee. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services currently waives the fee for those who cannot afford to pay it, which is approximately 40% of applicants. Under rules in place since 2010, lawful permanent residents (also commonly referred to as green card holders) who receive means-tested benefits from another government agency are automatically entitled to a fee waiver, making the process easy for USCIS to administer and for applicants and service providers to complete. The new policy significantly increases the burden on applicants who wish to apply for a fee waiver, and makes it impossible for some poor lawful permanent residents to apply at all.
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.
STATEMENT FROM SEATTLE MAYOR JENNY A. DURKAN
“The American promise must be open to all. Wealth is not and should never be a requirement of being an American citizen. Seattle will fight for the promise of America and against a pay-to-play approach to citizenship. We demand this administration be accountable to our constituents and maintain the current fee waiver process. I am grateful to Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes for ensuring our City protects the constitutional freedoms of our communities. Immigrants and refugees are part of Seattle’s heritage, and they will continue to make us the city of the future.”
STATEMENT FROM JESSICA MARSDEN, COUNSEL FOR PROTECT DEMOCRACY
“This Administration wants to stop legal immigrants who’ve lived in the U.S. for years from becoming citizens. The president talks tough about so-called ‘illegal immigrants’ and asylum-seekers, but behind the scenes is also making policy intended to hurt legal immigrants who have been here for years. All legal residents who live and work here, pay taxes, and want to be Americans—our neighbors, coworkers, and friends—should have the opportunity to become citizens and participate in our democracy.”
STATEMENT FROM MELISSA RODGERS, DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS, IMMIGRANT LEGAL RESOURCE CENTER
“The Immigrant Legal Resource Center strongly condemns the Trump administration’s latest attempt to make it harder for low-income immigrants to seek an exemption from the high costs of applying for citizenship. The new regulations will make it significantly more difficult for hundreds of thousands of aspiring Americans to receive fee waivers, effectively creating a wealth test for citizenship.”
STATEMENT FROM JOHN C. YANG, ASIAN AMERICANS ADVANCING JUSTICE | AAJC PRESIDENT AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR:
“This rule change is about changing the complexion of future immigrants from black and brown to white and furthers a class-based society that is discriminatory and unwelcoming. We cannot allow our government policies to reject the time-tested promise on the Statue of Liberty of a country that is accepting of the potential of the tired, poor, and huddled masses who yearn to breathe free in America.”
STATEMENT FROM ANNA GALLAGHER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE CATHOLIC LEGAL IMMIGRATION NETWORK, INC.
“Waivers of the $725 application fee make it possible for thousands of hard-working people to become U.S. citizens. This change is a roadblock on the path to the American Dream. The justification by USCIS—that reducing the number of fee waivers will help fund agency operations—is baseless, in fact it’s counterproductive. Even as USCIS fees keep going up, their case backlogs grow. USCIS mismanagement should not be used to punish immigrants.”
STATEMENT FROM RICH STOLZ, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF ONE AMERICA
“We believe in an America that welcomes immigrants and supports people in seeking their citizenship and right to vote regardless of race, national origin, class or economic status. Unfortunately, this action and others taken by the administration serve to create a two-tiered immigration and naturalization system—a ‘fast track’ for the wealthy and a much more difficult path for everyone else. This attack on immigrants smacks of discriminatory actions like poll taxes and other measures designed to deny people of their right to exercise their citizenship and vote. In the past, we made progress when people came together to stand for justice. Today our movement will push back against barriers to citizenship that harm working people with all the tools in our toolbox, including litigation to hold the administration accountable.”
STATEMENT FROM SEATTLE CITY ATTORNEY PETE HOLMES
“This potential rule would devastate low-income people who are in pursuit of their American Dream. The City’s New Citizen Program and nonprofits who assist low-income immigrants will be overwhelmed by requirements of this burdensome new proposal, so the Trump Administration has left us no choice but to file suit.”
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/