Records Not Revenue!

Jennifer Mendelsohn
Nov 20 · 3 min read

Stop the USCIS from holding your family’s records hostage.

On November 14, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) entered a notice of proposed fee hikes into the Federal Register. The revised fee schedules, which cover a wide range of services to immigrants, are alarming across the board for a number of reasons. But I’d like to call attention specifically to the suggested price increases to the USCIS Genealogy Program, which represent nothing short of a catastrophe that would seriously inhibit the ability of genealogists to do their work. And they should be of concern to anyone — historians, archivists, etc. — who cares about access to historical records held by government agencies.

The USCIS Genealogy Program is currently the only way to access a number of important genealogical documents including C-files, Alien Registration Files and A-Files. (Many of these documents are actually supposed to be readily available to the public through the National Archives, but that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.) As of today, it costs $65 to perform a search to see if there is a file on your ancestor, whether or not anything is found, and then another $65 to get the actual records.

What can you find in these records?

Well, one of them provided the sole clue to the town of origin of one of my great-grandmothers.

Another revealed the completely unexpected news that my great-grandfather had been arrested for grand larceny in 1940, a detail that played a cameo in my story about the family history of acting UCSIS head Ken Cuccinelli.

For genealogist Lara Diamond, a C-File yielded a treasure trove of information — and a previously unseen photograph — of her Holocaust survivor grandfather.

USCIS wants to raise the fees for getting these documents by as much as 492%. Under the proposed schedule, it would cost $240 just to request a search — just a search! — and in some cases an additional $385 to request a paper file, effectively making this information beyond the reach of most people. This is simply unacceptable. These are our families’ records. We should be able to access them without taking out second mortgages.

So what can you do? You can make your voice heard.

Say NO to these proposed changes.

1. Review the proposed rule yourself here and leave a public comment here BEFORE 16 DECEMBER 2019. (Click the blue “comment now” button.) You don’t have to be a great writer or write a lengthy dissertation. Just leave a comment saying you oppose the fee schedule. Let them know these records are important, they’re ours, and the proposed fees are outrageous and unacceptable. (This website has suggestions to help you craft a comments.)

2. Drop a copy of your comments in the mail to your U.S. Senators and Representative. Let them know you care about preserving access to federal records.

3. Share this information with everyone you know who cares about access to historical and genealogical records.

4. Sign up to stay informed of this campaign at https://forms.gle/7A4addv9K4T44Hfq5

5. Want more info? Check out https://www.recordsnotrevenue.com/

Thanks so much for your help.

Jennifer Mendelsohn

NYT Bestselling author of The Hunger Games. Oh wait, that's not me. Mom. Journo/Ghostwriter. #resistancegenealogy founder. Recovering Long Islander.

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