U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and I recently led a bicameral group of members of Congress 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.

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. 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), and Sunflower Community Action.

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.

(Rep. Norma Torres represents the 35th Congressional District, which includes part of Fontana.)

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