Saturday, November 22, 2014

Part of the Obama Plan: "Promote the Naturalization Process"


As outlined in some detail by the Department of Homeland Security, President Obama's recently announced immigration plan has quite a few components.  In the coming days,  I will (and my co-bloggers are free to join in) comment on various parts of the plan.

One of the immigration measures near the end of DHS's list of initiatives is to "Promote the Naturalization Process":  

"To promote access to U.S. citizenship, we will permit the use of credit cards as a payment option for the naturalization fee, and expand citizenship public awareness. It is important to note that the naturalization fee is $680, currently payable only by cash, check or money order. DHS will also explore the feasibility of expanding fee waiver options." 

The memorandum  from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to Citizenship and Immigration Services Director León Rodriguez outlines three steps for promoting the naturalization process:

1.  Implementing Credit Card Processing

2.  Conducting a Fee Study to Explore a Partial Fee Waiver Program

3.  Expanding Public Awareness/Promotion Media Campaigns

The naturalization component part of the Obama immigration will likely receive little attention -- and rightly so.  Although allowing fees can be substantial (with total fees  for filing a naturalization petition and related documents cost around $600), allowing for the acceptance of credit card payment and exploring a possible partial fee waiver arrangement, cannot be said to be especially far-reaching changes to the naturalization process. These measures, of course, might encourage some lawful permanent residents to file naturalization papers; however, one would not think that any increase in petitions due to these changes would be great.  Depending on the concrete actions taken, outreach and media efforts to promote naturalization also may have some positive impacts in informing eligible lawful permanent residents of the process for obtaining citizenship.  Still, the memo does not seem to propose anything like a naturalization drive or any kind of aggressive effort to encourage eligible immigrants to become citizens.

With respect to naturalization, the Obama administration in its current immigration initiative package unquestionably has taken a cautious approach.  The administration may have wanted to steer clear of the controversy that surrounded the  "Citizenship USA" program led by Vice President Al Gore in the Clinton years, which was criticized as a poorly crafted program that increased naturalization numbers greatly but sacrificed quality for quantity and was little more than a device to secure more Democratic voters.  Conservative commentators continue to claim that Democrats are using immigration for a variety of political ends -- including gaining new Democratic voters.

Put simply, the naturalization component of the Obama immigration initiatives is likely to be uncontroversial and to have limited impact on the current citizenship process.  The President took the cautious approach, probably in an attempt not to provoke cries of political partisanship.


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