Yesterday, the municipal comptroller of the nation’s largest city made a bold announcement. During a news conference — with the Statue of Liberty struggling to stay proud and relevant as a background photo op — New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer unveiled a proposal to waive the $725 federal naturalization fee. The humanitarian plan will assist 35,000 New Yorkers on the difficult road to permanent citizenship.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Of the city’s 8.5 million residents, almost a quarter million are eligible for naturalization. However, for many, the cost of the naturalization application prevents them from applying to become legal citizens. Under the proposal announced by Stringer, prospective applicants who earn between 150 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible to apply for a waiver.
Financial hardship has always been associated with attaining American citizenship — early immigrants liquidated entire households to pay for the journey and establish themselves on the continent. None-the-less, poverty should never be the qualifying obstacle to those who wish to contribute to the ever-evolving American experiment, especially in a gateway city ranked ninth in the world for cost of living.
At a time when anti-immigrant sentiment is running high in the White House, New York’s waiver program sends a timely and powerful message to the nation on a contentious and current policy issue: America is not an anti-immigrant nation. Friday’s bold policy statement hearkens to a time when the nation’s largest city for the past 240 years was also the country’s first capital — a city of progressive and positive thinking leaders who, themselves, were foreigners building a new land. Two centuries of time highlight the difference between the mouthpiece leadership of Washington, D.C. and the day-to-day reality leadership examples being exercised in New York City.
Surprisingly, the White House has been slow to tweet about the press conference, despite Stringer’s assertion that “President Trump’s misguided immigration policies” motivated him to adopt the proposed action. In addition to Friday’s policy announcement, New York City remains a sanctuary city with steadfast support from Albany to resist and fight the federal crackdown on sanctuary cities.
While there are different programs to offset the cost of naturalization for low-income and indigent citizenship applicants, the waivers offered on Friday target a middle-group caught in between those who cannot afford the fee and those who can. Typically, a family of three with a household income of less than $62,000 annually would be eligible to apply for the new waivers. According to Stringer, funding for the waivers will come from both taxpayer dollars and private contributions. Regardless of the source, the feds should have no complaints since they will still reap the fees for each person naturalized.
In a time when the nation is increasingly fractured over policy issues and political dissension, New York City is leading the way to unity and offering a constant reminder of what America is. It is a place where, regardless of race, religion, culture, heritage, sex, or income, a tiny, seemingly insignificant, individual can join a momentous, recognized, nation. New York remains a place where every resident proudly proclaims, “I am a New Yorker.”
By the close of Stringer’s press conference, Lady Liberty appeared to be smiling just a little brighter — pleased that she watches over a place in the country where America is still great.