The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

February 2, 2014

Immigrant reform might raise price of citizenship

(Continued)

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.

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.

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