National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Legislation

Creating a More Welcoming Path to Citizenship for New Americans

The Issue

Naturalization is the process by which immigrants become U.S. Citizens. The U.S. government has traditionally taken a laissez faire attitude when it comes to encouraging immigrants to become citizens. In fact, fees charged by the government for the naturalization application have become a barrier to citizenship for many low-income immigrants. In part, this is due to the fact that Congress does not provide the immigration agency, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, with funding for the cost of work the agency does that has nothing to do with the processing of naturalization applications. The agency has taken steps to lower the cost of citizenship by asking Congress to pay for some of this work, but prospects for Congress acting favorably in the current budget climate are slim.

Aside from cost, another hurdle for immigrants wanting to apply for U.S. citizenship is learning English. Again, the government’s laissez faire attitude has an impact, which can be seen in lines of immigrants trying to enroll in English classes. For some, especially the elderly taking the citizenship test in English is something that is too difficult.

Legislation

  • Homeland Security Appropriations Act
    The DHS Appropriations bill provides the funds for the operation of the Department of Homeland Security, and its component elements, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. For the government’s fiscal year 2012, the Obama administration asked for $19.75 million for an immigrant integration initiative, most of it having to do with encouraging immigrants to become citizens. The administration also asked for more than $200 million for the processing of applications from asylees and refugees, who are not charged for this humanitarian benefit. Instead, the cost is added to the applications of prospective citizens and other applicants. The House version of the bill provides no money for either the integration initiative or for the processing of refugee and asylum applications. The Senate version of the bill provides no money for the application processing, and $8 million for the integration initiative.


  • The Senior Citizenship Act of 2011
    H.R. 2957, introduced in the House by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). This bill would add a provision to the law governing naturalization by allowing an applicant who is older than 65 and has been living in the U.S. as a Permanent Resident for at least five years (a requirement for naturalization) to take the naturalization test in a language other than English. It provides an exemption from the naturalization test for persons 75 years and older.



Status

H.R. 2957 was introduced on September 15, 2011.

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