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Public Statements

Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. OBAMA (for himself, Mr. Menendez, Mr. Salazar, and Mr. Bingaman):

S. 795. A bill to assist aliens who have been lawfully admitted in becoming citizens of the United States, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I am proud to introduce the Citizenship Promotion Act (CPA) of 2007 with my good friend Congressman LUIS GUTIERREZ. In the Senate, we are joined by Senator SALAZAR, Senator MENENDEZ, and Senator Bingaman. The CPA will encourage the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to charge fees for services to legal immigrants that are fair and reasonable, and it would remove other potential bureaucratic barriers to the pursuit of citizenship.

Immigration policy remains one of the most contentious and divisive issues in our politics. And it is contentious and divisive because our policies are full of mixed messages. We must state clearly what our immigration policy should achieve--a legal, orderly, and secure immigration system that values immigrants, recognizes our right to control who enters our country, and promotes the legal pursuit of citizenship.

Most recently, the unanimous declarations of our support for legal immigrants has run head on into a USCIS proposal to dramatically increase immigration application fees beyond the reach of many working class legal immigrants. For a family of four that is working hard and legally pursuing the American dream, the new fees could put citizenship out of reach for many immigrants. For a family of four, the new fees would raise the cost of the application for citizenship by 80 percent to more than $2,400 dollars. And the fees for all other services will rise as well.

The Administration argues that people will pay any fee to become Americans. For many people, that is true. But for others, the new fee will send the message that they need only apply if they can afford it. It sends the message that we measure character based on income.

Our government has never provided services based on what people are willing to pay. That is why we are introducing the Citizenship Promotion Act to ensure that immigration application fees are both reasonable and fair and that the citizenship process itself respects the individuality of each applicant.

For immigrants who choose to come to America and pursue citizenship, there are numerous barriers. First, family, friends, and community are left behind. The new communities they enter come with the challenge of a new language, different social norms, and sometimes discrimination. And yet, every year, thousands of immigrants fully embrace the values and ideals that make us all Americans and unite us in our common pursuit of a better, more democratic society.

The dues we charge legal immigrants for joining the American family, from application fees to naturalization tests to background checks are all necessary, but should not eliminate people on the basis of income, age, or ethnicity. Excessive fees, testing that asks trivial questions or is administered without consideration for the applicant's circumstances, and background checks that take years to complete tell us more about ourselves than they do about those wishing to enter.

We believe that there are ways to help cushion the blow to immigrants from increased costs without hurting the agency. The CPA would make it clear to the USCIS that application fees do not need to fund all direct and indirect costs. We would maintain fees at their current levels and require that before raising fees any further, the agency report to Congress on its direct and indirect costs and how much in appropriations it would need to establish reasonable and fair fees.

In addition to ensuring that fees are fair, we want to make sure that other aspects of pursuing citizenship are fair as well. Our bill requires that citizenship tests be administered with consideration for the applicant, that the agency work with the FBI to move background checks through the process more quickly, and that any new application procedure make it possible for people without Internet access to continue submitting their applications on paper. The bill also creates a new grant program to give community based organizations the resources necessary to prepare and equip immigrants to become citizens.

Let's stop sending mixed messages. Let's work together and set immigration fees at a level that are fair and consistent with our commitment to being an open, democratic, and egalitarian society.


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