USCIS rejects citizenship applicants after neglecting to collect fee

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FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA) — A lack of communication from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is now hurting lawful permanent residents applying for citizenship.

Marisol Chanthavong has lived in the country for more than half her life as a lawful permanent resident. She said she took all the necessary steps to live in America legally with the expectation to apply for citizenship when her green card began to expire.

But Chanthavong said the people tasked with helping her and other immigrants file their paperwork forgot about a $1,000 fee required with the lawful permanent resident paperwork.

“If I had known that over 10 years ago that I needed to pay, of course I would pay it,” Chanthavong said.

Chanthavong said she’s willing to pay the fee now, but USCIS is rejecting her citizenship application because they didn’t receive the fee. Attorneys said officers should’ve asked for the money in the first place instead of simply passing through the residency application.

“They’re being denied [because USCIS is] saying they never paid the $1,000,” said Aaron Cash, an attorney in Rogers. “Well, they’re willing to pay the $1,000, and they would’ve paid it at that time if they had known, but they didn’t know.”

Cash said his law firm handles several similar cases and that he knows of attorneys across the state dealing with the issue, which seems to be exclusive to those who applied for residency through the Fort Smith field office more than a decade ago.

“They check all the boxes that would allow them to become a citizen, except immigration is saying, ‘oh, you didn’t pay the $1,000 way back when, and now you can’t become a citizen ever,’” Cash said.

Chanthavong said others in her situation are choosing to give up on fighting the system and will continue their permanent residencies. This means they can’t vote, live outside the U.S., hold certain jobs and could potentially lose their permanent resident status at some point in the future.

“In my head, I’m like, ‘this is so unfair. I shouldn’t be having to go through this,’” Chanthavong said. “There is always fear, but I believe in the Constitution. The Supreme Court is supposed to be checks and balances.”

In response to questions about the issue, USCIS public affairs officer Sharon Scheidhauer said the government is unable to comment due to pending litigation.

Cash said he hopes to hear a resolution from the federal courts in a year or two.

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