In a past career life, I coordinated diverse groups of non-profits and ran advocacy campaigns, harnessing their collective voice for positive change. When I departed the political sphere, I never thought that I’d return to those roots in order to help keep historical records accessible.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Genealogy Program, keeper of some of the most essential records on 20th century immigrants, has proposed a 492 percent increase in the fees required to search their index and obtain historical records held under their purview. Many of these records should already be publicly accessible. USCIS is essentially holding them hostage, demanding individuals pay exorbitant fees to access documents of our immigrant ancestors.
If approved, fees to access records will start at $240 and could cost up to $625 for a single file. The fees are even more inexplicable when USCIS refers the majority of genealogy record requests to their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program for processing. If these requests are FOIA requests, researchers should not be paying any fees other than standard FOIA fees.
Everyone should care about the issues involved, even if your research does not include these records. What can be done to one type of records can be done to others. You do not need to be a US resident nor citizen to submit a public comment. Any interested party can make their voice heard.
You can make a difference. Make your voice heard in 3 easy steps:
Step 2: Write your comments, addressing the issues listed here or any issue you think is important. Be sure to mention the Genealogy Program. See these conversation starters for thoughts on how to begin.
Step 3: Send your comments BEFORE 30 DECEMBER 2019 to
- Federal Rulemaking Portal and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010 and follow instructions for submitting comments on the Genealogy Program; and
- Send a copy of your comments to your US Senators and Representative, and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010. Tell them you care about preserving access to federal records!
Amplify your voice! Please share this with genealogical societies, historical societies, and every family historian and researcher you know!