In its fiscal year 2016 budget released earlier this month, the Obama administration requested $10 million from Congress for the Citizenship and Integration Grant program, administered by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This is the same amount the administration has requested the past two years. In this program, grants are awarded to organizations that will provide citizenship instruction and naturalization application assistance to eligible legal permanent residents.
Congress has not been entirely supportive of the program. In 2014, it gave the program $2.5 million and told USCIS it could make up the difference by using immigration fees up to $10 million. The agency ultimately awarded $10 million to 40 organizations.
Congress has yet to complete its work to fund the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of USCIS, for the fiscal year that began last October. A controversial House bill, now being considered by the Senate, contains no money for the integration grants but authorizes USCIS to spend $10 million of fees collected from immigrants to fund the grant program.
Despite the prospect of not getting any appropriated funding, the administration plans to award the full $10 million in grants this year, which will result in another 25,000 eligible immigrants receiving services.
There’s another item in the budget that is related to citizenship and immigrant integration. The administration is asking again for authority to spend $3 million for startup costs for the U.S. Citizenship Foundation. As proposed, the foundation would be a nonprofit corporation authorized to accept private donations to support citizenship instruction and preparation, among other things. Money would be taken from the collection of premium processing fees.
Given the current political climate in Washington, the citizenship grants are unlikely to receive congressional appropriations this year. That will only make it harder to get approval for the president’s request in 2016. If they get turned down, we will have to wait and see whether USCIS decides to continue to spend its own money in 2016 to keep the program alive.