updated 4/29/2004 2:05:36 PM ET 2004-04-29T18:05:36

Beginning Friday immigrants will pay more to become citizens, live as legal residents or apply for other benefits.

The Bush administration announced the increases in January and said they are needed to cover the costs of increased security checks on applicants and rising administration expenses.

“Congress requires us to do a fee study to determine if we are covering the cost of doing business. When we did, we found we are losing $1 million a day, “ said Chris Bentley, Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman.

Under the new fee schedule, the cost of becoming a citizen is $320, up from $260. For immigrants who want to become legal permanent residents, the cost will be $315, up from $255.

Petitioning to bring in a fiance who is an immigrant now costs $165, an increase of $55. Replacing or renewing a permanent residency card, also known as a green card, costs $185, up from $130.

Also, most applicants will have to pay a $70 fingerprinting fee, an increase of $20.

Critics of the fee increases say the agency is charging more to pay for mismanagement that led to a backlog of millions of pending immigration benefits applications.

The increases, without improved service, will keep people from pursuing citizenship, said Larry Gonzalez, Washington director for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.

An analysis conducted for NALEO estimates that about 4.2 million Latinos are eligible for U.S. citizenship.

“How ironic that we have all these folks eligible for citizenship and yet we have a service agency that continues to create barriers to citizenship,” said Gonzalez. His organization works to bring more Latinos into elected office and the political process, in part by promoting citizenship.

“Everyone wants to talk about immigration reform and illegal immigrants, “ Gonzalez said. “Not that those are not important, but at the same time we have the issue here of people playing by the rules and doing it right and we have a system that is broken.”

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