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Despite Court Ruling, Concerns Remain Over Citizenship Fee Hike

Groups that assist immigrants in the United States worry that higher citizenship application fees would force many to put their dreams on hold. (Adobe Stock)
Groups that assist immigrants in the United States worry that higher citizenship application fees would force many to put their dreams on hold. (Adobe Stock)
September 30, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- A federal court has temporarily halted a massive fee hike for U.S. citizenship applications. But Minnesota immigration advocates say the threat remains.

The fee was scheduled to increase on Friday by more than 80%, to nearly $1,200. But Tuesday's ruling pauses that, for now.

Veena Iyer, director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said the state's immigrant population already has dealt with issues such as travel bans under the Trump administration. If the ruling is reversed, she said, she worries this latest obstacle would be too difficult for many to overcome.

"For those folks who are already here," she said, "we're afraid that this is really going to stop people from taking that last step - from changing from being a lawful permanent resident to becoming a citizen - and being able to get all of the rights that that entails."

The agency handling applications said most of its revenue comes from the fees, and without the increase, it would be underfunded by $1 billion annually. It's unclear yet if the federal government will appeal the ruling, issued by a judge in California. In Minnesota, more than 65,000 immigrants are eligible for citizenship.

Attorney Evangeline Dhawan, who handles naturalization cases for the Immigrant Law Center, said many clients already struggle to meet the current fee structure. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the deadline, she added, they're working on applications at an accelerated pace.

"We're trying to get as many out as we can," she said, "so people still have that opportunity for a fee waiver if they're eligible, or the filing fee that's lower than it's going to be."

Iyer said it isn't just about people who are here trying to become naturalized citizens. She's worried they'll also have trouble connecting with family members still living outside the United States.

"That importance of family and that importance of supporting family," she said. "And we see time and time again, immigrant and refugee families who are giving up so much for themselves in order to, for example, support a family member abroad, or to be able to bring over a child or a spouse, or a parent."

She added that if the changes ultimately go through, there's also concern that some immigrants would resort to risky loans to cover the added costs. Also under the plan, a number of fee waivers would be eliminated. The International Institute of Minnesota said most of its clients qualify for those waivers.

Details of the fee increase are online at amazonaws.com.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN