Advocacy Groups Suing USCIS Over Fee Waiver Change

The city of Seattle, Wash. and five legal organizations have filed a lawsuit in California on Wednesday, October 30 against the Trump administration for changing the requirements for naturalization, which would make it difficult for immigrants to qualify for the fee waiver when applying for citizenship.

This comes after another effort to tighten the United States immigration system when the Trump administration on Friday, Oct. 25 updated the requirements to get naturalization fees waived, which the lawsuit cited as “a sudden and unlawful policy change.”

“The American promise must be open to all,” Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan said in a statement. “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.”

The five legal service providers include the 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.

The Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) — through United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — revised the “request for fee waiver” qualifications, eliminating a 2010 rule that allowed immigrants who receive certain government benefits to automatically qualify for a fee waiver.

USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli reasoned that the agency uses the fee to cover the costs of processing applications, and that the new rule “will improve the integrity of the program and the quality and consistency of fee waiver approvals going forward.”

Currently, the application fee for naturalization is $725, and USCIS said that individuals may still request a fee waiver if they present proof that the annual household income is at or below 150% of the federal poverty line or if “they demonstrate financial hardship.”

In 2010, USCIS placed rules that automatically allowed lawful permanent residents — aka green cardholders — who receive certain government benefits like food stamps, subsidized housing or Medicaid to receive a waiver for the required fee for applying for citizenship.

Immigrant advocacy groups and elected officials denounced the rule change, noting that it puts a burden on lawful, low-income immigrants.

Legal and civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) estimated that the revised rule will impose “significant barriers” to naturalization for “tens of thousands of non-wealthy applicants each year.”

“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,” John C. Yang, president and executive director of AAJC, said in a statement. “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 year to breathe free in America.”