WASHINGTON – The Homeland Security Department is studying whether legal immigrants seeking citizenship and other benefits should pay higher application fees.
The fees now charged don't reflect the full cost of doing business, Emilio Gonzalez, director of the department's Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Wednesday.
Applying for citizenship now costs $330. Applying for a green card conveying legal residency costs $325. Applicants also now pay a $70 fingerprinting fee in each case.
"American citizenship is priceless," said Gonzalez, a naturalized citizen. "I think people will pay."
The study will review costs of facility improvements, training, equipment and technology and determine how much of a fee increase is needed to cover them. If the agency needs new facilities, it ought to be able to build them and pass on that cost, Gonzalez said.
The Senate passed a bill last week that would offer a chance at citizenship for many of the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country. It would require the immigrants to pay at least $3,200 in fees to get on the path to citizenship. The bill must be negotiated with the House, which passed a very different bill focused on immigration enforcement.
The agency — which is financed by the fees it collects for naturalization, permanent residency and work permit applications — is required to do a fee analysis every two years. Its fees were last raised in 2004 to cover increased security costs.
Immigrant advocates have long argued that the agency's costs cannot all be absorbed by application fees and have pressed Congress to appropriate money to pay for some costs, such as fees for indigent, asylum or refugee applicants. Fees for such applicants are waived on occasion and the costs are included in charges to other applicants.
Crystal Williams, associate director for programs at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, welcomed the analysis, saying it would help decision makers comprehend the costs the agency faces.
But Rosalyn Gold, director of policy and research for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said she is concerned the study could mean more fee increases.