Ropes & Gray and Project Citizenship Sue USCIS to Protect Access to Citizenship for Low-Income Immigrants

November 20, 2019

Ropes & Gray and Project Citizenship have filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and their respective acting directors in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The lawsuit challenges a rule change recently imposed by USCIS, set to go into effect on December 2, which eliminates the primary means by which low-income legal permanent residents have historically been able to establish their eligibility for a fee waiver in connection with their citizenship application.

Project Citizenship is a Boston-based nonprofit organization that helps legal permanent residents and their family members become naturalized U.S. citizens by providing free legal services to its clients. Approximately 70% of Project Citizenship’s clients – and tens of thousands of similarly situated individuals throughout the country – rely on this fee waiver in order to apply for citizenship. Without it, thousands of legal permanent residents will be unable to apply for citizenship, despite being otherwise qualified, and the application process will be needlessly burdensome.

“This rule is inherently unlawful,” said Amy Roy, litigation & enforcement partner at Ropes & Gray. “It will have devastating effects on the ability of legal permanent residents to obtain citizenship in this country. Project Citizenship is asking the court to block this illegal rule so that it can continue its work assisting clients to become citizens.”

To be eligible to naturalize, immigrants must meet criteria that Congress has determined demonstrates a commitment to this country, none of which concerns an individual’s wealth or social status.

A naturalization application requires a hefty fee, but USCIS’s current policy waives the fee for an application who receives a means-tested government benefit such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps), or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The new rule would eliminate this route to a fee waiver, forcing applicants instead to prove their inability to pay using much more difficult tests. 

“Citizenship isn’t only for the wealthy,” said Veronica Serrato, executive director of Project Citizenship. “USCIS’s efforts to eliminate fee waivers on the basis of the receipt of Medicaid, food stamps, or other public assistance is cruel, inefficient, and illegal. We are so grateful to Ropes and Gray for their extraordinary pro bono representation.”

Led by Ms. Roy, the Boston-based Ropes & Gray team on this matter includes litigation & enforcement associate Stephanie Fagan.

A copy of the complaint can be found here.