By Spencer S. Hsu and Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
The Bush administration will announce an increase today in immigration application fees of more than 80 percent, federal officials said yesterday.
The cost of applying for naturalization, for example, would rise from $330 to $595, and a required fingerprint check would go from $70 to $80.
The increases, which have been under consideration for months, would raise nearly $1 billion for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The troubled $2 billion-a-year agency has antiquated paper systems that have fed years-long delays for applicants and fears that terrorists might slip through the cracks.
Union, civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups called the changes discriminatory, warning that they will keep lower-income and less-educated people from becoming citizens.
"What they're saying is, people trying to become Americans are not a priority," said Cecilia Muñoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, the Hispanic civil rights group.
Critics also said the changes would create an incentive for the agency to drag out processing, thereby extracting more fees, or to expedite cases for people who can afford premium services.
USCIS faces budget problems because of an increase in applications and because Congress funds it not with tax money but with user fees, which trail operational demands.
The money will allow USCIS to recoup its business costs, "provide future services, enhance national security and to modernize . . . a totally outdated business infrastructure," said an agency official who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to upstage the announcement.
Officials said the increases will not address costs that would result from an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, which the White House has proposed.
Fee increases will take effect no sooner than 120 days after they are published in the Federal Register tomorrow, including a 60-day public comment period.