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Over 90 people raise their right hand as they take the citizenship oath during a naturalization ceremony on Friday September 20, 2019 in West Lafayette. (Photo: Nikos Frazier | Journal & Kurier)
LAFAYETTE – Over the past year, Lafayette City Department Immigration Clinic has helped more than 250 people in the greater Lafayette area, from assisting with asylum applications to assisting people on their way to citizenship.
Because the naturalization application fee to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Federal Naturalization Administration and Immigration System could increase by 73%, LUM is partnering with an online service to help and encourage eligible permanent residents to embark on their path to naturalization.
The LUM Immigration Clinic works with Citizenshipworks, a free online service for residents that provides step-by-step help with applying for citizenship. The road to naturalization is already a long process and the potential increase in costs could create an added deterrent, said Susan Brouillette, director of the LUM Immigration Clinic.
In early October, U.S. citizenship and immigration services were scheduled to increase their naturalization fees from $ 725 to $ 1,255. The reason for the increase, according to the agency, is that the ongoing fees would underfund the funding by about $ 1 billion a year. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, unlike some other government agencies, are fee-funded, and fees make up around 97% of their budget.
The fee increase was temporarily stopped by a federal judge who approved an application for an injunction.
"That's a lot of money," Brouillette said, referring to the fee increase. "Many of the people hoping for naturalization are middle-class, and this money can be especially difficult to raise during COVID-19."
Brouillette said the immigration clinic lagged slightly behind the number of people it helped this year compared to 2019, and it led some of that delay and the clinic's "treading water" to the coronavirus pandemic and other federal laws related back with immigration.
"We're trying to get people to do this before the fees go up and because it's a good thing people can apply themselves and there is help out there when they need it," Brouillette said. "(Citizenshipworks) is a free service and if red flags come up the case will be passed on to us and we can help claimants mitigate it."
Citizenshipworks has helped over 50,000 people and offers application questions in English, Spanish and Chinese.
Like other organizations, the LUM Immigration Clinic is moving its annual Port of Hope fundraiser from a face-to-face event to a virtual platform.
When Tanuja Sheth and her husband Ketan Sheth heard that it was going to be a virtual event, the couple wanted to help in any way they could. They announced a $ 30,000 challenge for LUM's Immigration Clinic, which they hope to receive in full, and a total of $ 60,000 for the clinic.
All donations made to the LUM Immigration Clinic by the end of November will be matched.
Brouliette said since Sheth's announcement, the LUM Immigration Clinic has raised nearly half the funds needed to cover the grant.
Tanuja Sheth said she had volunteered for the LUM Immigration Clinic's annual fundraiser in Port of Hope for the past few years, taking photos and creating a gallery of some of the immigrants the clinic served.
"Your stories are so touching and emotional and set the framework for our American society," said Sheth. "That's what we should be about – welcoming people here who are creating a positive community, a positive atmosphere, the best they can, and a true desire to do good and be good citizens."
MORE INFORMATION: To apply for naturalization at Citizenshipworks, visit the LUM Immigration Clinic website at client.lumserve.org/immigration-clinic.
The LUM Immigration Clinic accepts checks until the end of November in order to receive the grant. LUM is planning a virtual port of hope from 6:30 p.m. November 5th with a suggested donation of $ 75. A link for the virtual event will be available on the LUM website in the next few weeks.
Emily DeLetter is a news reporter for the Journal & Courier. Contact them at (765) 201-8515 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyDeLetter.
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