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Immigration Advocates Argue Against Increased Fees



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's immigration advocates say a proposed increase in immigration application fees could force some families to choose between filing and putting food on the table.

An 86 percent application fee increase has been proposed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

That would raise the average immigration application fee from $264 to $491. The U.S. citizenship application fee would increase from $350 to $595.

Aden Batar is a lawyer and Catholic Community Services official who oversees about 800 immigration cases each year in Salt Lake City. He said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security should fund the increase, because the immigration agency is trying to meet security mandates from the federal government.

"By putting the burden on the applicants -- that's not the way to do things," said Batar.

Immigration officials say the increase will benefit applicants because the money will be used to improve computer and processing systems, add more offices and improve employee training, which will cut application processing times 20 percent by 2009.

The current lengthy processing times are a frustration, said Luz Robles director of Utah's Office of Ethnic Affairs. She said the proposal should include a complaint process for applicants.

"We want the service and we're willing to pay," but how is the agency going to be accountable, Robles said.

At a presentation in Salt Lake City last week, Barbara Melton, a Denver-based Citizenship and Immigration Services community liaison said fees have not increased since 1998. The agency operates only on application fees -- not tax dollars or federal appropriations -- and needs the increase to make improvements, she said.

"We're ineffective in a lot of our areas," Melton said.

If the increases go into effect, the agency's budget would increase from $1.8 billion to $2.3 billion, Melton said.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, www.sltrib.com

On the Net: www.uscis.gov. or www.regulations.gov.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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