Menendez, Torres, Colleagues Introduce Bicameral Bill to Preserve and Expand Access to Naturalization

Menendez, Torres, Colleagues Introduce Bicameral Bill to Preserve and Expand Access to Naturalization

A hefty price tag should not prevent legal residents from becoming American citizens

  
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Norma Torres (Calif.-35) led a bicameral group of colleagues in introducing the Citizenship Affordability Act, legislation to preserve and expand access to citizenship by ensuring legal residents who are eligible for naturalization, but struggling to afford its cost, can access waivers to reduce or eliminate fees associated with the process.

“Becoming an American citizen should not depend on whether or not you can afford a costly application fee,” said Sen. Menendez. “As the son of immigrants, I know how becoming an American citizen can strengthen families and improve lives. Citizenship promotes integration, civic responsibility, and a sense of community, which ultimately benefits all Americans. Yet for too many aspiring Americans, the cost of naturalization is a significant barrier to becoming a citizen. Our Citizenship Affordability Act will help bring down that barrier for future fellow citizens across the nation.”

“As a first-generation immigrant, I know that you have to work hard to become a U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, the high cost of the naturalization process can be a financial barrier for many legal permanent residents,” said Rep. Torres. “The Citizenship Affordability Act would help make the process more affordable to keep the American dream within reach for everyone who earns it.” 

Currently, aspiring American citizens eligible for naturalization are required to pay USCIS an application fee of $640 plus $85 biometric fee for a total of $725 per applicant. Those expenses can quickly snowball if people must pay for lawyers, English classes, and civics test preparation. If several family members are applying, costs multiply. Legal residents who earn less than 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level can apply for a full fee waiver and a reduced fee for those earning less than 200 percent. The fee waivers do not apply to those making between 200 and 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, many of whom still struggle to afford the fees associated with naturalization. USCIS is proposing changing the eligibility requirements for fee waivers and limit access to the naturalization fee waiver.  This legislation would preserve and expand who is eligible for a fee waiver and ensure citizenship is affordable to all who are legally eligible to apply.

The Citizenship Affordability Act is supported by national and local organizations such as NALEO, UnidosUS, National Partnership for New Americans, Church World Service, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), American Friends Service Committee NJ, HIAS Pennsylvania, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, Refugee Women’s Alliance (Seattle, WA), Sunflower Community Action, Kansas People’s Action, Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, Nebraska Appleseed, Promise Arizona and Dream Big Nevada.

“As leaders on the frontlines of their communities, our nation’s elected officials know firsthand how much our towns, cities and states benefit when lawful permanent residents are able to naturalize,” said Arturo Vargas, NALEO Educational Fund CEO.  “Unfortunately, barriers like cost and access to legal assistance, have kept many of these potential New Americans from realizing their dream of U.S. Citizenship.  We are proud to endorse this important effort to help these hard-working aspiring Americans secure the full rights and protections afforded to U.S. Citizens under the law so that they can continue to contribute to our nation and democracy.”

“We applaud the introduction of the Citizenship Affordability Act by Senator Menendez  and Congresswoman Torres. Citizenship should not be premised on income level or a privilege for only those with significant resources,” said Laura Vazquez, Program Manager for Immigration Initiatives, UnidosUS. “The benefits of citizenship are significant and those who are eligible should not be prevented from taking an oath to this country because of an inability to pay an unnecessarily high fee.”

“On behalf of the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) and the 37 immigrant and refugee rights organizations we represent, I want to extend our gratitude to Senator Menendez and Representative Torres for working to ensure our communities are not priced out of citizenship," said Joshua Hoyt, Executive Director for NPNA. "The test for citizenship should be how much love and commitment you have in your heart for our country, not how much money you have in your bank account. As Stephen Miller--the real architect of the Administration's ‘Second Wall’--works to eliminate the naturalization fee waivers, we stand with our champions in Congress to defend aspiring Americans and urge the 9 million lawful permanent residents eligible for citizenship to apply as soon as possible.”

The Citizenship Affordability Act would:

  • Make permanent full and partial income-based Naturalization Fee Waivers.
  • Codify the full fee waiver for naturalization fees for: filing to preserve residence for naturalization purposes; filing an application for certificate of citizenship; filing an application for a replacement naturalization or citizenship document; the filing of an application for citizenship and issuance of certificate under section 322 of the Immigration and Nationality Act; and biometrics capture and background checks.
  • Codify and raise to 250 percent of the federal poverty level the partial fee waiver for the same fees.
  • Require the Secretary of Homeland Security to consider the receipt of means-tested benefits as evidence of eligibility for the fee waivers.

Joining Sen. Menendez on this bill are Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.),  Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). The House bill is cosponsored by Representatives Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.-13), Ilhan Omar (Minn.-5), Albio Sires (N.J.-8), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (Ill.-4), and Salud Carbajal (Calif.-24).

The text of the bill can be downloaded here.

 

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