Oppose the USCIS fee hikes!
Three days, and a bit, are what we have.
Three days to speak out.
Three days to try to prevent outrageous fee hikes for records obtained from the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) Genealogy Program.
Just three days.
We only have until Monday, February 10, 2020 — this coming Monday — 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. If it goes through, genealogists, historians and other researchers are going to find that many 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. Just six pieces of paper.
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.
Every genealogist — whether we have recent immigrant ancestors or not — needs to be heard on this proposal. What’s done by one agency today will surely be replicated by others tomorrow — and it’s our access to the records of our national history that’s at stake: our common history.
Here’s how to be heard:
First: Put together your thoughts about why this proposed fee hike is a bad idea. There’s 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.
Second: 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 to be sure yours posts.
Third: 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.
Records access is a precious gift that we have as genealogists and as citizens. Reasonable fees for reasonable public access to public records — fine.3 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 just three days.
Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “One last chance at USCIS,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 7 Feb 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, “One week left,” posted 23 Dec 2019, and “Another chance to be heard,” posted 27 Jan 2020 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 7 Feb 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). ↩
- No, 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. ↩