Immigrants Race to Beat Clock
Green card fees to jump, causing rush for funds, paperwork
July 22, 2007By Julie Turkewitz, The Baltimore SunThe telephones in Sara Rivera's office at Centro de la Comunidad in Upper Fells Point rang incessantlylast week. Hastily scribbled appointments filled the slots on her enormous July calendar, almost all for immigrants who need her help filling out residency and citizenship forms. August's squares are vacant.With costs for many immigration applications - including permanent residency and citizenship - set tosurge after July 30, the race is on for immigrants to get their paperwork done now.U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the rate changes May 30, giving immigrantseight weeks to raise hundreds of dollars, complete necessary medical exams and apply before the increase. Now, many are scrambling to find money and are flooding offices like Rivera's before time runs out."We are racing against time," said Maina Ngobu, who came to Baltimore in 2002 seeking asylum fromKenya's Central Province. He has rushed to find the more than $2,000 he needs to file permanent residency paperwork for his wife and five children before the deadline."I'm thinking, `Where do I get all this money at once?' I had not planned for this," Ngobu said.The paperwork dash is hitting immigrants from all backgrounds. They are from Cambodia, Belarus andLiberia. They work as janitors, professors and driving instructors, many under the table. Some, like LuisaGalicia, have been here since the 1980s. Others arrived just a year ago.The cost of applying for citizenship - in addition to the other filing fees - is set to jump to $675 from$330. Obtaining permanent residency, commonly referred to as a green card, will soon cost $1,010 for those ages 14 and older, up from $395.These costs do not include the price of the required medical exam by a designated doctor whenapplying for a green card. For Ngobu's family, that will be another $190 per person. Ngobu had borrowed thousands from friends and other sources to bring his family to Baltimore. Hereceived his green card in 2006.When his family came a year ago, he was working two jobs - as a bus driver from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. andas a parking attendant from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. - until his wife and kids coerced him to cut back because hewas falling asleep at dinner.He still works as an attendant, making about $580 a week after taxes, he said. After borrowing moneyfrom a friend to cover mortgage payments on his Rosedale townhouse and using paychecks from his wifeand two of his daughters, he was able to pay for permanent residency applications. "We are living hand tomouth," he said.Others haven't been as lucky. Without connections, most immigrants in Baltimore cannot obtaintraditional loans, because they lack the proper credit and financial history. Many find that friends andfamily are already stretched thin trying to pay for their own papers. Churches have given some money tomembers, Rivera said, but nonmembers are out of luck.