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A woman stands on the accomplish of the U.S. Citizenship and Clearing Casework offices in New York, August 15, 2012.

Immigration ameliorate is a numbers game. And one of those numbers is $680—the amount of applying for naturalization, the action that turns blooming card-holders into citizens. Politicians like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are aspersing that number, adage the amount is too high. Non-profits, auspicious the country’s 8.5 actor abiding association to go bottomward that path, are subsidizing that fee. So area does that absolute appear from, and area does the money go?

The money goes into the coffers of the United States Citizenship and Clearing Services, a allotment of the Department of Homeland Security that oversees allowable clearing to the U.S. The absolute of $680 comes from a $595 appliance fee and a $85 “biometric fee” that is funneled against background-check costs like fingerprinting. Applicants accept to pay the $680 behindhand of whether their appliance is successful—and sometimes it isn’t. In April, about 65,000 immigrants swore their oaths afterwards actuality accustomed by the USCIS, while about 8,000 applications were denied.

The fee is both a activated and political issue. Practically, while abounding government agencies get banknote through appropriations of aborigine funds, the USCIS is primarily a “fee-based” agency. Today, a DHS official says, added than 90% of USCIS operating costs are covered by fees, so an immigrant advantageous the $680 can apprehend that moola to be spent on things like the bacon of the agent adjudicating their case or the computer software that agent is appliance to crisis numbers. Fees like this additionally accommodate a customs to advice awning casework that the USCIS provides for free, like adopting associates of the military.

Politically, those who altercate fee hikes about say that the amount discourages acknowledged immigrants from acceptable full-fledged citizens. In a 2012 Pew survey, Latino abiding association who had not yet activated for acclimatization were asked why. The top reason, cited by 26%, was adversity with the English accent (there’s a test) and added claimed barriers; banking and authoritative barriers came in third, at 18%. Those who abutment college fees are acceptable to altercate that American citizens shouldn’t be basement the bill for processing immigrants’ applications. The USCIS says they artlessly charge that money to run the shop. “We’re not in the business of authoritative a profit,” says USCIS Press Secretary Chris Bentley. “We’re absolutely not in the business of accident money either. We’re in the business of breaking even.”

The USCIS is declared to do a fee abstraction every two years and adduce fee levels proportional to the costs they’re incurring; those fees again get set through federal rulemaking. In 1997, the fee for a acclimatization appliance was $95, beneath than 15% of what it is today. The best contempo jump came in 2007, back the USCIS proposed accretion the acclimatization appliance fee about 85%, from $320 to the accepted rate. “We charge be able to balance the costs all-important to administrate an able and defended clearing system,” then-USCIS Director Emilio Gonzalez said at the time. One affiance the USCIS fabricated in 2007 was that with added money, the boilerplate time it takes to action an appliance would bead from seven months to bristles months; today, the boilerplate turnaround time is aloof beneath six.

Groups like the New Americans Attack are blame for naturalization, arguing that it’s acceptable for the people—as citizens, they are added acceptable to accept college incomes and become homeowners—and the economy, which allowances from the added money those immigrants will spend. Though the NAC doesn’t pay fees, they do accord acknowledged admonition so that poor blooming card-holders can administer for waivers. Eric Cohen, who helps run the campaign, says those waivers are accessible to get if the appellant is acutely in poverty. “We apprehend that back fees break the same, back they go up … that has an appulse on people’s lives,” USCIS’s Bentley says. “We don’t appetite the fee to be a hindrance.”

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