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More green card holders seek citizenship with Trump in office

New citizens state the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America at the Naturalization Ceremony in Tucson on November 17, 2017. (Photo by Deborah Lee/Arizona Sonora News)

New citizens state the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America at the Naturalization Ceremony in Tucson on November 17, 2017. (Photo by Deborah Lee/Arizona Sonora News)

Nervous green card holders are seeking citizenship in greater numbers because of concerns that the Trump Administration’s new immigration policies could send them out of the country.

From July 2016 to September 2016, the number of green card applications received at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was 158,442, according to data released by the federal agency. From October 2016 to December 2016, that number increased by about 17.5 percent to 186,036.

William DeSantiago, managing attorney of the immigration program at the Catholic Charities Community Services of Phoenix, said that since the election there have been more consultations at his organization and applications for citizenship because people are concerned about the laws of their legal residency.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received 239,628 applications for naturalization from October 2016 to December 2016 and that number increased by about 21 percent to 289,995 forms from January 2017 to March 2017.

DeSantiago said their concerns include not being able to emigrate their loved ones into the country, losing their permanent resident status, and being harassed when they try to go to their home country and not being able to come back into the States.

Erin Goeman, staff attorney at Arizona Legal Women and Youth Services, said the increase in citizenship applicants was driven by the motivation to vote and out of fear of deportation for committing a crime.

There was a huge influx of people applying for citizenship at the end of 2016, according to Goeman, which results in longer waiting times. “The cynical part of me would say that there’s a benefit to our current administration to make immigrants wait a little bit longer,” she said, “because that will give the immigrant time to get arrested or to give up.”

The path of becoming a citizen or a lawful permanent resident of America costs a large amount of money and requires a lot of time. According to the federal agency, an individual is eligible to apply for naturalization by following requirements such as, being at least 18 years old, being a green card holder who resides in the country for at least five years, and has knowledge of the U.S. government and history, among other requirements.

As of 2012, there were 13.3 million lawful permanent residents and nearly 8.8 million were eligible for naturalization, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Furthermore, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services receives and processes roughly 6 million immigration applications from both individuals and employers each year, according to the American Immigration Center. The applicants aim to either gain permission to permanently live in the U.S., to work temporarily, or to become a citizen.

However, the burden of the cost can turn away prospective citizens from actually pursuing naturalization.

DeSantiago said that the filing fee always seems to be increasing. “When I got here in 1996, the fee was $110 or somewhere in the $100 range,” he said.

An increase in fees took effect December 23, 2016, for applications. In the application for a renewal or replacement of a green card, the fee rose to $455 from $365, according to the USCIS website. The application fee for naturalization climbed to $640 from $595. For those who are seeking a green card, the application fee increased $155 to $1,140 from $985. On top of this application fee, applicants need to pay an additional biometrics fee of $85.

According to DeSantiago, many people attempt to get waivers, but very few are eligible unless they are enrolled in a government benefit program. The cost discourages people from applying because they don’t have the means, said DeSantiago.

“Not every immigrant can apply for the means-tested benefit and some aren’t poor enough,” said Goeman.

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