Another chance to speak out against USCIS fee hike!
If you’re sitting there feeling a little guilty that you were so busy in December that you missed the deadline for commenting on the truly outrageous fee increases proposed for genealogical records by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), feel guilty no more.
The deadline has been extended again and there’s time for you to add your voice to the fight against these proposed fee hikes.
We now have until Monday, February 10, 2020 — just two weeks from today — to make sure USCIS and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, get the message loud and clear: these proposed increases are utterly unacceptable.
The proposal for huge increases in fees for genealogical records was first announced in November, and it’s buried deep in hundreds of pages of proposed increases for all kinds of documents and forms required by USCIS for current immigrants. So deep in fact that the staff of one Indiana congressman couldn’t even find it in the published proposal.
But it’s there — and we need to make sure it’s not overlooked, or genealogists, historians and other researchers are going to find that a lot of the records of our immigrant ancestors are priced so high they’re beyond our reach.
How high, you ask? The proposal would raise fees for genealogical records from the current maximum of $130 to anywhere from a low of $240 to as much as $625 — for a single record.1
This isn’t a small increase in these fees. Not a 10 or 20 or 30 percent increase to recoup rising costs. USCIS itself admits that: “The fee (for a record search) would increase from $65 to $240, an increase of $175 (269 percent increase). The fee for (a paper record) would increase from $65 to $385, an increase of $320 (492 percent).”2
Take, for example, the visa file of my grandfather’s sister. It’s six pages long, with one of those pages being just a stamp and another two being the top and bottom of a single sheet of paper. And it’s a paper record, not a microfilmed record. To get those six pages now costs a maximum of $130: $65 for a record search and another $65 for the record. To get those pages if this proposed hike goes through would cost $625 — $240 for the record search and another $385 for the record itself. All six pages of it.
That’s more than $100 a page… for a file that was eligible for transfer to the National Archives last year. Where I could access it in person for free.
Or take her alien registration form, the AR-2. It’s just two pages, on microfilm. Those two pages would cost $240 — again more than $100 a page, for a record that already does exist at the National Archives, but USCIS won’t allow the National Archives to let me see it there.
This is utterly unacceptable. This can’t be just allowed to go through without a fight. Every last one of us needs to speak out against making our national history inaccessible through ridiculous fees.
And I do mean, every last one of us.
Yes, our community mobilized to fight these hikes. Societies asked their members to join in the fight; national genealogical groups gathered support from members and member societies;3 even the Board for Certification of Genealogists weighed in.4 U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) spoke out on the issue as well,5 and so did the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators.6
And all of that isn’t enough.
Not without each and every one of us speaking out to preserve the genealogical gift we have: reasonable public access to public records.
Here again is how to make sure each of us has our voice heard:
Second: Put together your thoughts about why this proposed fee hike is a bad idea. There is great information at the Records, Not Revenue website about this and ideas about what to include. You can also read the comments that have already been posted about this proposal at the online portal of the Federal Register here. (Search within the comments for the word “genealogy” to see what others are saying about these specific fees.) Write out what you want to say and have it ready to upload (the comment system is online, or you can comment in writing by mail, to Samantha Deshommes, Chief, Regulatory Coordination Division, Office of Policy and Strategy, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security, 20 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Mailstop #2140, Washington, DC 20529-2140, and reference DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010 in your correspondence). Be sure to specifically mention that you’re commenting on the fees for the Genealogy Program. Otherwise the comment may be lost in the mass of comments opposing other proposed fee increases.
Third: Post your comment to the online Federal Register comment system here. The reference number is DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010 — make sure to follow all the instructions, and then check on the Federal Register portal comment page to be sure yours posted. (It can take two to three days for comments to appear.) NOTE: if the comment section says closed when you click on that link, try this link instead.)
Fourth: Send a copy of your comments to the two United States Senators from your state and to the member of the House of Representatives for your district. You can get names and contact information for your Senators at Senate.gov and for your House member at House.gov.
Fifth and last: Recruit your fellow genealogists-librarians-historians-researchers-news media friends to join in. This impacts all researchers — and we need to stand together on this.
Records access is a precious gift that we have as genealogists and as citizens. Reasonable fees for reasonable public access to public records — fine.7 But unreasonable fees that put essential records out of reach for average Americans? Not fine. Not at all.
Join me in speaking out.
The deadline for public comments on the rule is now Monday, February 10, 2020. We have this one more chance to be heard.
Speak out against these fee hikes.
Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Another chance to be heard,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 27 Jan 2020).
- See Judy G. Russell, “Records, not revenue,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 21 Nov 2019, “Fight the fee hikes,” posted 2 Dec 2019, “A little more time,” posted 13 Dec 2019, and “One week left,” posted 23 Dec 2019 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 27 Jan 2020). ↩
- Genealogy Requests, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements, 84 FR 62280 at 62343 (14 Nov 2019) (emphasis added). ↩
- See e.g. “USCIS Outrageous Fee Increase,” FGS Voice, posted 9 Dec 2019, Federation of Genealogical Societies (https://fgs.org : accessed 23 Dec 2019). ↩
- See LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson, JD, LLM, CG, CGL, “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Proposed Fee Increases,” SpringBoard blog, posted 3 Dec 2019, Board for Certification of Genealogists (https://bcgcertification.org/ : accessed 23 Dec 2019). ↩
- See e.g. Matthew Brown, “Sen. Mitt Romney questions fee hikes that will hit family history researchers hard,” Deseret News, posted 11 Dec 2019 (https://www.deseret.com/ : accessed 23 Dec 2019). ↩
- “NAGARA Expresses Opposition to United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) Proposed Fee Increases,” News Room, posted 19 Dec 2019, National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (https://www.nagara.org/ : accessed 23 Dec 2019). ↩
- We don’t like paying fees but we get it — there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and taxpayers aren’t required to pay for our genealogy efforts. ↩