BY NHIEN NGUYEN
The Year of the Pig 2007 promises to be a prosperous year, including predictions of a general increase in standards of living.
However, anti-immigrant sentiments on the federal level are making it harder for new Americans to become naturalized citizens, threatening to break the piggy banks of many foreign-born residents who will be denied access to benefits related to citizenship.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is re-designing the naturalization test with 144 new questions. The pilot studies on the new test are being conducted in about a dozen cities – none of which are areas with significant Asian Pacific Islander (API) populations. The New York state pilot is in Albany, not New York City; the Washington state pilot is in Yakima, not Seattle; and there are no pilot tests being conducted anywhere in the immigrant-heavy state of California.
Tracy Hong, director of immigration programs at the Asian American Justice Center, notes that APIs naturalize at a very high rate. She argues that the pilot testing in non-API centers will not show an accurate view of how APIs will react to these new questions. For example, one question is, “Why do we have three branches of government?” which comes with a broad answer that may be too vague for many applicants. The new test could very well turn into a WASL predicament, where immigrants will be set up to fail rather than to succeed.
The USCIS also announced fee increases for immigration applications, naturalization applications and mandatory fingerprint checks. The increases could impact applicants by at least a 66 percent raise in costs.
“Two-thirds of the 14 million Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States are foreign-born. A 66 percent fee increase would have a significant negative impact on the API community,” said Congressman Mike Honda (D-Calif.) in a press statement. “To ensure family unity and the opportunity that America promises to those who wish to contribute, it is important that the naturalization process remain fair and accessible.”
As the start of Lunar New Year brings new hope, there is still time to make an impact on upcoming changes to the immigration system. The public comment period on fee increases ends around the beginning of April (visit www.regulations.gov). API advocacy groups are watching and working with USCIS on test changes, opening opportunities for others to get involved. On a local level, API coalitions in Washington are urging the state to increase funding that will support organizations working to help immigrants with the naturalization process.
For this Year of the Pig, be educated, be informed and support comprehensive immigration reform that is prosperous and fair for all Americans.