There's been a lot of political talk about keeping illegal immigrants out of the country, but now it may get harder to become a legal citizen.
Sandra Lobato moved to Rockford from Ecuador two years ago. She's been living here with a green card and saving money to apply for citizenship.
"It's hard for all the people for the families to save right now $400 to pay the citizen application," says Lobato.
It could be about to get a lot harder. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, wants to raise the fee to apply for citizenship from $330 to $595. They propose increasing fees for legal permanent residence to $905 from $325. There's also a mandatory fingerprinting fee on all applications that would go up from $70 to $80.
"If they increase the fees, we think it's like you don't want to get us here in this country," says Lobato.
Victoria Almonaci teaches citizenship classes at Rockford's La Voz Latina community center. She's also the citizenship coordinator for Rock Valley College. Almonaci worries rising costs could discourage people from applying for their citizenship.
"Immigration or USCIS should really be putting out the welcome mat and helping people, encouraging people to apply for citizenship, not setting up an additional wall," says Almonaci.
The director of the USCIS says the increase is needed because application fees pay for 99% of the agency's costs. Upping fees would bring in two billion dollars. That money could be used to improve and modernize the agency and make getting citizenship a quicker and more efficient process.
Whatever the cost, Lobato is determined to become a citizen to make a better life for her daughter and contribute to the country she now calls home.
She wants: "The right to the vote, we can make a difference too in this country."
Immigrant advocates say application fees should not be responsible for all of the Citizenship and Immigration Service's revenue. They want congress to cover some of the costs.
Representatives from the Rock Valley College citizenship program are encouraging immigrants to apply for citizenship before the new fees go into place. That could be as early as April, following a public comment and review period.
RVC offers appointments every weekday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM to help people through the citizenship application process.
Call 815-921-2274 and ask for Victoria Almonaci to learn more.