Comptroller Proposes Fund to Help Immigrants Become Citizens

Comptroller Scott M. Stringer made the announcement accompanied by immigrants and other officials. (Photo via El Diario)

Despite some areas of discord, New York City officials keep joining forces and launching initiatives to protect the immigrant community. Comptroller Scott M. Stringer proposed this Friday a public-private citizenship fund to help thousands of immigrants cover the costs of the federal application to become a U.S. citizen.

The naturalization process for eligible immigrants involves administrative costs and potential legal fees, as well as English or citizenship preparation classes, which can be a big financial burden for many families. Stringer noted that the application fee alone is $725, which creates “a barrier for low- and middle-income immigrants.”

To confront the cost problem and help some of the more than 670,000 legal residents in the city to apply for citizenship, Stringer called for the creation of a public-private fund to help those immigrants with the application fees.

The money would offset the costs of citizenship applications for residents with annual incomes between 150 percent and 300 percent of the poverty level, or incomes of less than $61,260 per year for a family of three. These immigrant households do not currently fully benefit from existing federal and state fee reduction programs.

An estimated 180,000 immigrants would be eligible for the fund. The city could cover the costs of the first 35,000 New Yorkers applying for citizenship, at an estimated price tag of just $20.7 million.

This “modest” amount, in Stringer’s words, would be the initial investment expense of this fund managed by the city, which could then leverage additional private, charitable funds from those interested in helping their fellow New Yorkers.

This is an important issue, the comptroller’s office points out, as after it was announced in 2008 that the form-filing fee would be increased from $400 to $675, the number of citizenship applications surged 89 percent from the year prior. After that price increase took effect, applications plummeted again.

The comptroller wrote to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal to introduce the proposal for the Citizenship Fund.

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