Mayor Durkan’s Resolution Opposing Trump Administration’s Increasing Financial Barriers to Citizenship Passes with Unanimous Bipartisan Support at United States Conference of Mayors

Seattle (July 4, 2019) – Ahead of attending and speaking at a Fourth of July naturalization ceremony at Seattle Center, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan’s resolution in opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal to increase financial barriers to citizenship passed with unanimous bipartisan support at the United States Conference of Mayors’ 87th annual meeting this weekend. The resolution underscores the urgent need to preserve the fee waiver process for low-income residents seeking to become American citizens who may not be able to afford the $725 naturalization fee.

“The American promise must be open to all. Wealth is not and should never be a requirement of being an American citizen,” said Mayor Durkan. “Seattle and our partners across our country will fight for the promise of America and against a pay-to-play approach to citizenship. We demand this administration be accountable to our constituents and maintain the current fee waiver process. Immigrants and refugees are part of Seattle’s heritage, and they will continue to make us the city of the future.”

Eliminating the fee waiver would have overwhelming impacts both nationally and locally. A 2014 study showed that 32 percent of eligible legal permanent residents in the U.S. live below 150 percent of the poverty level, and 22 percent fall within the 150 and 200 percent range. This means that 54 percent of the residents who are able to naturalize would be eligible for a fee waiver or a reduced fee. Eliminating the fee waiver and reduced fee options would ostensibly block half of the estimated 8.8 million eligible legal permanent residents from seeking U.S. citizenship.

The City of Seattle, through its Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, funds and coordinates two naturalization programs: the New Citizen Campaign (NCC) and the New Citizen Program (NCP). Together, these aim to help the estimated 75,000 eligible Seattle-area legal permanent residents become U.S. citizens, serving 1,500 annually. A reduction or elimination of the fee waiver would devastate the City’s citizenship services infrastructure and eliminate the possibility of attaining U.S. citizenship for tens of thousands of local legal permanent residents.

The City of Seattle has so far submitted three public comments in opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal, which would make applying for a fee waiver extremely difficult. USCIS first brought forward this proposed rule change in September 2018. More information on how to submit public comments regarding this rule change can be found here.

Mayor Durkan’s resolution was co-sponsored by Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Mayor Jim Kenney of Philadelphia, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild of Tucson, and Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C.

The full resolution can be found here and below: 

WHEREAS, immigrants make essential contributions to American communities and the American economy, generating a larger share of economic output than their proportion of the population; and

WHEREAS, the fee waiver application is available to the most vulnerable immigrant populations including refugees, asylees, applicants filing under Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provisions, victims of crime and trafficking, unaccompanied and abandoned minors, the elderly, disabled and infirm; and

WHEREAS, the fee waiver is also available to applicants for U.S. citizenship and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) identifies several benefits of immigrants naturalizing, including, but not limited to, the right to vote in federal elections, higher priorities for petitioning family members permanently into the United States, obtaining citizenship for children born abroad, and becoming an elected official; and

WHEREAS, on September 28, 2018 USCIS published Agency Information Collection Activities; Revision of a Currently Approved Collection: Request for Fee Waiver proposing to eliminate the use of proof of receipt of a means-tested benefit as evidence of eligibility for USCIS Form I-912 Request for Fee Waiver; and

WHEREAS, in 2017, almost 40 percent of lawful permanent residents (LPRs) across the U.S. filed Form I-912 Request for Fee Waiver for naturalization; and

WHEREAS, the elimination of the use of receipt of public benefits to prove eligibility for the fee waiver would harm low-income immigrants; individuals who earn too little to be required to file taxes would not be able to obtain the required federal tax transcript to submit with the income-based fee waiver; and applicants who have experienced a reduction in income since filing their previous year’s tax return may be stuck without any clear evidence to demonstrate current fee waiver eligibility and would likely be forced to wait to file for naturalization until the following year when their tax returns reflect their new income level; and

WHEREAS, USCIS published notice of the fee waiver changes under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) of 1995, a process which is insufficient and inappropriate given the proposal to significantly change the criteria for fee waiver eligibility, a constitutive change to the law which should necessitate a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, a more robust public notification process required by the Administrative Procedure Act; and

WHEREAS, USCIS received 1,198 public comments during the 60-day comment period, largely in opposition to the proposed form change; and

WHEREAS, on April 5, 2019, USCIS published proposed changes to fee waiver eligibility criteria, OMB Control Number 1615-0116, to the Federal Register, with only minor amendments to the proposed changes published September 28, 2018, offering a 30-day comment period.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the United States Conference of Mayors calls on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to urgently take specific, measurable and actionable steps to protect the naturalization fee waiver from elimination, cease efforts to eliminate the use of means-tested benefits as a basis of fee waiver eligibility, terminate plans to establish fees for asylum seekers, and ensure USCIS fee revenue is used solely for the adjudication of applications.