Naturalization application 81% cost increase temporarily blocked by judge

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Photo Credit: Sierra Wiggers | Daily Texan Staff

The fee for becoming a citizen would have increased by 81%, from $640 to $1160, on Oct. 2, but a judge issued a preliminary injunction, or a temporary block, on one of the largest fee increases for citizenship applications in American history Sept. 29.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services proposed the fee increase to ensure the organization has the resources to provide adequate services, according to its final rule on fees. Eight nonprofit organizations sued against these increases, and a California judge issued a temporary block on the fee’s passing. 

“(The fee increase) leaves immigration benefits accessible to essentially wealthy applicants only,” said Allison Wright, a Gallogly Family Foundation fellow at the Equal Justice Center. “Lawful, permanent residents who are otherwise eligible to become US citizens, but with the new filing fees, they can be prevented from becoming U.S. citizens and so prevented from voting and fully participating in our democracy.”

Fee waivers will also become less available under the new fee changes, Wright said.

Karma Chávez, department chair and associate professor of Mexican American and Latino/a studies, said these fee increases are designed to stop immigrants from obtaining citizenship. 

Many people applying for citizenship are working class and already struggle with current fee prices, and an increase could further obstruct their chances at becoming citizens, said Chávez, who has expertise in American immigration processes.

“This increase would create an even bigger burden on people, another obstacle that potentially prevents people from being able to naturalize,” Chávez said. 

Varunika Singh, a business honors and finance sophomore, said she has lived in America since she was 3 years old and is still waiting to be eligible for the naturalization process.

“Having to pay more than $1,100 per person to become a citizen is quite ridiculous,” Singh said. “They’ve gone through the process and waited five years to get their citizenship, so I think it’s really unfair to add that extra cost barrier limit to people who have gone through the process the right way.”

Once Singh and her family are eligible for naturalization, they will have to pay over $3,000 to attain citizenship if the fee increase passes. Singh said she is lucky her family can afford it, but still believes the price is purposefully targeting low-income immigrants.

Nick Romanow, an international relations and global studies senior, became a citizen in May and said the naturalization process could pose several challenges for people with jobs, busy schedules and little money. 

Romanow said immigrants are sent a date they are expected to appear for naturalization, and if they cannot make that date, they could be forced to start the process over.

“I consider citizenship in a country that made that possible to be an honor, and the idea that other people might be denied that same opportunity because of their economic status I find sad,” Romanow said. “The general statement that treats immigrants with suspicion instead of treating them with hospitality is deeply un-American.”

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to accurately reflect Allison Wright's title.