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Scott Jagow: Today, the cost of becoming a legal U.S. citizen nearly triples. The immigration fee was $395. Now, it’s more than $1,000. The government says the extra money will pay for more staff, a new computer system, better offices. But that’s a pretty steep increase, especially for people who are often struggling to get by. From our Americas Desk at WLRN, here’s Dan Grech:
Dan Grech: Diego Villa shows up Thursday afternoon at an immigration advocacy center in Miami. He doesn’t have an appointment, but he asks to see paralegal Carolina Herrera anyway.
Grech: So he’s here with money?
Carolina Herrera: He just came up to the lobby and he said, “Oh, I have everything ready, can you do my application?”
Villa is one of thousands of legal immigrants rushing to get their paperwork in order before the fee hike.
He’s carrying two checks. One’s a money order for $320 — the balance due on his residency paperwork. The other’s the $10,000 settlement from a worker’s compensation lawsuit. No bank will cash the check until Villa’s paperwork’s in order.
Villa: Pienso ya, lograr el sueno Americano. Tener mi residencia en unos meses.
He says in a few months, he’ll achieve his American Dream: to have his residency.
The new fees will raise more than a billion dollars a year — nearly double what Citizenship and Immigration Services currently collects.
Cheryl Little: This is an astronomical, a quantum increase.
That’s Cheryl Little. She directs the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, which offers free legal help to recent arrivals.
Little: What we’re doing is creating a second wall, and we’re preventing many hard working immigrants — who’ve played by the rules, who’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do — from achieving the American Dream.
Fran Morejon: My name is Fran Morejon, and I’m from Cuba.
Morejon left the communist island eight months ago in search of freedom. So far, he’s found mostly bills.
Morejon: You must pay your rent, your car, your insurance, your Medicaid, your food. It’s not easy save that money.
He says it’ll take him months to scrape together a thousand bucks for his residency fee.
In Miami, I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.
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