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Citizenship fair addresses fees, paperwork


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POSTED: Sunday, April 19, 2009

Congressman Neil Abercrombie said the higher fees now charged those seeking U.S. citizenship might account for the reduction in the number of applications and that Congress needs to address the issue as it looks at changes in immigration laws.

“;Money should not be a barrier to citizenship; that's the last thing that should become a criteria,”; Abercrombie said yesterday at the fourth annual 2009 Citizenship Fair at Honolulu Community College.

“;I see the smile on people's faces, and gratitude”; as they leave because they have received legal assistance with realizing their dream of citizenship, Abercrombie added.

Some 18 lawyers, as well as paralegals and law students, volunteered from the Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center, the Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii, the William S. Richardson School of Law Immigration Law Clinic and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Hawaii Chapter.

John Egan, fair coordinator and chairman of the local AILA chapter, said the number of citizenship applicants across the country has fallen significantly since higher fees went into effect more than a year ago. Fees used to average about $400 but now cost $675.

“;It's a substantial hardship for people to have to come up with this kind of money,”; he added.

Volunteering at the fair was Paul Luu, a Vietnamese immigrant who gained citizenship in 1985. Now a paralegal with the Hawaii Immigration Justice Center, he has devoted his career to helping immigrants become citizens. He said he choose his occupation because of the struggles of his family to learn a new language and fit into a different culture.

“;I want to go along side them and help them make better lives. ... They look overwhelmed (at the naturalization process). I'm able to answer their questions and tell them, 'One step at a time,'”; Luu said.