Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Manuel Enrique Angel, 28, of El Salvador, poses in Houston Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. Angel made learning English his first priority upon arriving in Houston from his native El Salvador two years ago. He now speaks English clearly and deliberately and plans to apply for citizenship as soon as he becomes eligible later this year. He estimates it will take him up to eight months to save the money for the citizenship application. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Immigrant reform might raise price of citizenship
First Published Feb 02 2014 06:50 pm • Last Updated Feb 02 2014 07:47 pm

Edinburg, Texas • Hilda Vasquez squirreled away the money for her U.S. citizenship application by selling batches of homemade tamales at South Texas offices. Carmen Zalazar picked up extra babysitting jobs at night after caring for kids all day in Houston.

The women scrimped and saved for months to pay for the $680 application, but for other applicants in the future, it might not be enough.

Photos
Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

As President Barack Obama renews his quest for immigration reform, some proposals would impose fines of $2,000 on top of application fees, making the financial hurdles much taller for people who are here illegally.

"You have more rights when you are a citizen, like to vote," said Zalazar, a legal resident. As soon as she started a citizenship class, "I started to save because I knew otherwise it won’t be possible."

The struggle is familiar to millions of immigrants. A 2012 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that only 46 percent of Hispanic immigrants eligible to become citizens had done so. The top two reasons were lack of English skills and lack of money to pay for the application.

Manuel Enrique Angel made learning English his first priority upon arriving in Houston from his native El Salvador two years ago. He now speaks English clearly and deliberately and plans to apply for citizenship as soon as he becomes eligible later this year.

Trained as a lawyer in El Salvador, the 28-year-old works as a cook in a Houston burger joint. His wife, an American citizen, is a hair stylist. He estimates it will take him up to eight months to save the money for the citizenship application.

"It’s really hard when you have to pay rent around $600, when you have car notes for $300 and $500," Angel said.

Republican supporters of the proposed fines say penalties are necessary to defend against any appearance that creating a pathway to citizenship amounts to amnesty.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank that supports tighter immigration controls, said if immigrants who are in the country illegally are allowed to seek citizenship, they should have to pay the costs, which will increase if millions of applications need to be processed.


story continues below
story continues below

However, he said, the costs should not be so high that people can’t afford them.

"It’s stupid to price people out of the market," Krikorian said.

Angel plans to take advantage of a program at a Houston credit union that offers small low-interest loans specifically to help clients become citizens. The Promise Credit Union partners with Neighborhood Centers Inc., a nonprofit network of community centers in the Houston area that cater to immigrants.

Credit union President Randy Martinez said the program began as a pilot in 2012 and only officially started last fall.

"We don’t want that to become an obstacle for them not to become citizens, just because they don’t have the entire fee to pay," he said.

The credit union’s $455 loans include $380 toward the citizenship process plus a $75 processing fee for the loan application. They carry a fixed 5 percent interest rate for a 12-month term, so the monthly payments work out to about $38.

Applicants must contribute $300 of their own money. They are all pre-screened by the Neighborhood Centers legal team to make sure they qualify for citizenship and have all the necessary documentation.

The credit union has already discussed expanding the loans if Congress approves a reform package that offers people in the country illegally a costlier path to citizenship, Martinez said.

An immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June did not set the costs of the proposed 13-year path to citizenship. Lawmakers left that up to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, with the idea that fees would make the system self-sustaining.

While the fees remain unspecified, the Senate bill lays out penalties totaling $2,000 to be paid at various steps along the way. The legislation would create a new status called "registered provisional immigrant" and require anyone with that status to pay taxes.

During the 13-year wait, immigrants would be "working on the books, and you will hopefully be able to make a better income and be progressing in your life," said Ellen Battistelli, a policy analyst with the National Immigration Law Center, who has argued against making the process too costly.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.