Utah Sen. Mitt Romney objects to big fee increase for federal genealogy records

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks at the Veterans Day Commemoration at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.

Sen. Mitt Romney is asking the Department of Homeland Security to explain proposed changes that would significantly increase the cost of searching and requesting copies of federal genealogical records.

In a letter dated Tuesday to Chad Wolf, the acting Homeland Security secretary, and Kenneth Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Romney asks for additional information on the budgets and expenses of the USCIS Genealogy Program and questions the rationale behind raising search fees from $65 to $240 and records fees from $65 to $385.

“If this rule takes effect,” Romney wrote, “a family historian would need to pay $625 to search and obtain a single file on a relative.”

Romney, R-Utah, wrote that genealogical records allow Americans to trace their roots and better understand who they are and from where they came. He suggested that boosting the fees would do little to address budget concerns, because higher costs would lead to fewer requests to search and copy records from federal databases.

“I am concerned that drastically raising the Genealogy Program’s fees would harm genealogists across the United States without addressing your budgetary concerns,” Romney wrote. “While interest has grown over the last few years, genealogy research remains primarily a hobby sensitive to financial constraints.”

[Read more: Family Search, owned by the LDS Church, adds same-sex couples to its database]

The fee increases are part of a series of proposed rule changes published by the Department of Homeland Security last month, and which are currently in a public comment period ahead of additional consideration and potential adoption. In a summary of the rule changes, the department states that Citizenship and Immigration Services conducted a comprehensive review of fees and recommended the changes to cover program expenses.

“Adjustments to the fee schedule are necessary to recover the full operating costs associated with administering the nation’s immigration benefits system, safeguarding its integrity, and efficiently and fairly adjudicating immigration benefit requests," the summary states, “while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our country’s values.”

Genealogical work is popular in Utah, where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains the Family History Library and encourages members to research their family origins at satellite Family History Centers.