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Posted February 5, 2007
A New York Times Editorial
The Price of Citizenship

With one hand, Lady Liberty lifts her lamp beside the golden door. With the other, she roots around in an immigrant’s wallet, plucking out bills. It’s not an appealing image, but that’s where we are, now that Citizenship and Immigration Services, the beleaguered federal bureaucracy that makes new Americans, has announced plans to increase fees sharply to cover its costs.

The agency is distinctive in the federal government for being entirely dependent on fees it collects. It is also notable for backlogs and what its director, Emilio Gonzalez, acknowledges are “dingy buildings” and “rude employees.” Mr. Gonzalez promises that if the agency is granted an average increase of 66 percent in the price of visas and citizenship papers, it will process applications more quickly and take other steps to fulfill its responsibilities, the costs of which have risen sharply since 9/11.

What this means for aspiring immigrants is simple: more cash upfront. The application fee for citizenship would rise to $595 from $330. The fee for permanent residency would increase to $905 from $325, and charges for bringing in a foreign spouse or employee would more than double. Refugees and victims of human trafficking or sex crimes would still have their fees waived, and other applicants could request hardship waivers.

There are no easy formulas for pricing services like these, but advocacy groups on both sides of the immigration debate agree that the increases are exorbitant, and we agree. The proposed fees would become a means test for new Americans, slamming the door on many people who desperately want to be part of this country and have much to contribute.

The blame clearly lies with Congress, which has required the agency to support itself entirely with fees. Congress should abandon this misguided rule and allocate the money to run the agency adequately and efficiently. All Americans benefit from the healthy, invigorating flow of naturalized citizens, and all Americans — not just the newest, least powerful ones — should help pay for it.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, OPINION, of Sunday, February 4, 2007.

RELATED TEXT: Immigrants Are Facing Big Increases in U.S. Fees

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