Tracing Your Family’s Roots May Soon Get A Lot More Expensive Sunday, Dec 29 2019 

Dec. 30 is the deadline to submit a comment to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services over a proposed fee hike to access some records, some of which date back more than 100 years and are useful to genealogists.

The USCIS wants to increase the fee for obtaining immigration files by 500%, which means some people would have to pay more than $600 for the documents. The move would affect families of the millions of people who immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“This is immigration history,” Renée Carl, a genealogist in Washington, D.C., who works with clients who use the records, tells NPR’s David Greene.

Renée K. Carl

Max Carl in 1918

“If someone is coming from a displaced persons camp in Europe, they would have filled out all this paperwork while still in Europe,” Carl says. “Then you get the information on when they come in. You get a photograph if there’s a visa file. You almost always get a photograph.”

There are millions of records held at the agency, Carl says. These include alien registration files, files for certificates of naturalization and visa files, if one applied for a visa to come to the United States. “There might be something called a registry file if, during the process of naturalization, the government couldn’t find you on a ship manifest, so they were trying to document how you entered the country in the first place,” Carl says.

For people trying to trace their family histories, these files can offer critical information, including photos. She says genealogical research goes beyond just wanting to know relatives’ names; people want to understand the kind of lives their ancestors lived.

“Sometimes you’ve never seen a picture of your great-grandfather or your grandfather other than as a grandfather, not as a young person,” Carl says. “This gives you a way to understand what their lives were like when you can’t ask them the questions anymore.”

Even when the files don’t contain photos, they almost always include a signature, Carl says, “which is a way to have that human touch in a record.”

USCIS documents can be especially important for populations in the U.S. affected by discriminatory immigration laws, Carl says. These groups include Japanese-born residents who were denied citizenship until after World War II and people of Chinese descent who were subject to immigration and citizenship restrictions between the 1870s and the 1950s.

Carl and colleagues have created a website with more information on the files USCIS has, the proposed fees, as well as how to comment.

She says she first learned about the value of immigration documents when doing research on her own family.

“My grandfather came to this country as a child and became a citizen,” she says. “But in the 1960s, my grandfather had no idea where his certificate of naturalization was. He wanted a copy of it that had his name on it. And he also needed to prove how old he was to Social Security so he could start collecting his benefits.”


Max Carl arrived in the U.S. as a child in 1905. He became a citizen through the naturalization of his father. He had no birth certificate, so in the 1960s when he needed to prove his age for Social Security, he used a letter, among other things, from the St. Louis school board. Later, his granddaughter Renée Carl obtained these documents.

He’d come from Eastern Europe as a child and Carl’s grandfather did not have a birth certificate, so in order to prove his age, Carl found letters in his file from the St. Louis school board saying that he started first grade at age 8.

“It gave the name of the school that he attended. These are little things, but it gave me this insight into a person as a child,” she says. “You realize they had this whole life that they lived. So these records are one way to take a peek back into a different part of our immigrant ancestors’ lives.”

If the fee increases go through, Carl says, it would cost a minimum of $240 to simply put in a search request for records from USCIS. The fee would cover some records, she says, “But if there is a paper file, they would add on another $385 to the fee. So that’s a total of $625 for one file on one person.”

Currently, it costs about $65 for a search and another $65 to receive the records.

“There’s a huge difference,” says Carl. “It’s already expensive for records that should be at the National Archives. Many of these records should be at National Archives and free for people to access.”

Grant Din/National Archives

An image of Ow Luen from his file, originally held at the USCIS, now available at the National Archives.

A USCIS press release says the fees are needed to cover the costs of processing these applications. But Carl says the fees are redundant.

“Our immigrant ancestors paid and filed fees when they filled out the forms in the first place. If these records were transferred over to the National Archives, they would be available for research, and these records would then be held in a place that’s used to handling records all the time, not in an agency that focuses on immigration and naturalization, she says.

NPR’s Gisele Grayson and Jon Hamilton produced this story for the Web.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit

Nonprofit Offers Low-Interest Loans To Help Immigrants Continue Their Careers Tuesday, Nov 12 2019 

When immigrants move to the United States, their professional certifications don’t always transfer over. One Louisville nonprofit is offering small loans to help former doctors, nurses and others overcome the financial obstacles preventing them from pursuing their professions in their new home.

Ricardo Gonzalez moved to Louisville from San Juan, Puerto Rico, earlier this year after meeting a Puerto Rican woman who has lived here for decades. He was previously a real estate developer, attorney and U.S. government contractor in Puerto Rico.

“I moved to Louisville not only for love, but also for the stable economy,” he told a group of supporters Tuesday at an event for LHOME, a local nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution, which is providing loans to people like Gonzalez.

Puerto Rico is an American territory, but Gonzalez needs to study for and pass the Kentucky bar exam to practice law here.

When he came to Louisville, he got a real estate license but said he could not afford to pay for bar review courses and the test itself, until he got a loan from LHOME’s JobUp! program. He is one of three people to receive a loan since the program launched in October, according to LHOME. The JobUp! program is funded by Fifth Third Bank and provides loans up to $6,000.

LHOME CEO and president Amy Shir said the loans her organization provides are below market-rate, and that specific rates vary.

Mayor Greg Fischer spoke in support of the program at an announcement event, where he said most of Louisville’s population growth comes from foreign-born residents.

“Many of these immigrants come with tremendous skills from their home countries. They can be doctors and nurses, engineers,” he said. “But when they come to America, those skills don’t translate to what the American outline is.”

LHOME provides loan services to low- to moderate-income individuals, particularly in west and south Louisville. The organization also helps some people pay their property tax bills.


FancyVille closes with immigration debate Wednesday, Sep 25 2019 

By Parker Malatesta —

The University of Louisville Student Government Association capped off their FancyVille event in the Red Barn on Sept. 17 with a debate between the College Democrats and Republicans.

The forum predominantly focused on immigration, a topic that President Trump widely talks about and discussed at the recent Democratic debates.

Per the American Immigration Council, almost four percent of Kentucky residents are immigrants. Nearly three percent are native-born U.S. citizens who have at least one immigrant parent.

Freshman political science student Ashanti Scott debated for the Democrats. Senior accounting major Evan Wright debated for the Republicans.

Wright discussed common fears such as job loss, and said our country shouldn’t allow in an unlimited amount of migrants. He said he didn’t think it was the United States’ role to take pressure off of other countries and their societal issues.

Scott took the opposite view, saying we shouldn’t set an immigration quota. She discussed the importance in having exposure to new cultures. She also touched on the importance of oversight and criminal background checks of those trying to come into our country.

After opening statements, the moderator allowed for a “crossfire” session in which there were no formal rules.

“We need to open our doors,” Scott said. “Let all immigrants in.” She constructed the point that competition is good, especially in the fight for low-skill work. Scott doesn’t endorse the idea and rhetoric of “America first.”

“I’m for no limit,” she said.

Wright replied by stating that no country allows in an unlimited amount of immigrants.

He also relayed that no current Presidential candidate endorses this idea. Most Democratic Presidential candidates support the idea of accepting 110,000 refugees a year, a number set by the Obama administration in fiscal 2017, per the Washington Post.

“A limited amount of immigrants will help raise wages,” Wright said.

This debate closed out the day for FancyVille, only drawing in a small crowd of about 30 people. In total about 250 students attended the day of events held by SGA.

Photo By Anna Claire / The Louisville Cardinal 

The post FancyVille closes with immigration debate appeared first on The Louisville Cardinal.

Op-ed: Skilled-workers law would be a boon for Kentucky businesses Wednesday, Sep 4 2019 

Earlier this year in a speech discussing immigration, former President George W. Bush declared Americans need to “dial down the rhetoric, put politics aside and modernize our immigration laws.” The Kentucky business community agrees. Kentucky businesses know we need to get past the rhetoric and divisiveness of the issue and...

The post Op-ed: Skilled-workers law would be a boon for Kentucky businesses appeared first on Greater Louisville Inc..

Federal Immigration Policies Bring Uncertainty To Louisville’s Latino Community Friday, Jul 19 2019 

Federal immigration policies will impact thousands of families this year, including many in the Louisville area. Local advocates for immigrants and refugees gathered to talk about those policies and how they affect the people they serve during WFPL’s In Conversation.

Our guests were:

  • Americana Community Center Executive Director Edgardo Mansilla
  • Define American Executive Director Ryan Eller
  • Mijente Louisville Spokesperson Jesús Ibañez
Americana Community Center Executive Director Edgardo Mansilla (top left), Host Rick Howlett (bottom left), Define American Executive Director Ryan Eller(bottom right), Mijente Louisville Spokesperson Jesús Ibañez (top right)Kyeland Jackson |

Americana Community Center Executive Director Edgardo Mansilla (top left), Host Rick Howlett (bottom left), Define American Executive Director Ryan Eller(bottom right), Mijente Louisville Spokesperson Jesús Ibañez (top right)

Listen to the episode:

Friday’s conversation was held a week after threatened Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids on communities failed to materialize. But the spectre of those raids left Louisville’s immigrant communities unsettled.

Jesús Ibañez is a spokesperson for the advocacy group Mijente Louisville. He said rumors of ICE raids in Louisville scared some people from getting basic services.

“For example, if an undocumented woman or even a woman with residency is in a situation where they are being abused by their spouse or by somebody intimate or close to them, they will not report that. And we’ve seen that,” Ibañez said. “People are realizing that sometimes the United States is even worse than the countries they’re fleeing in terms of being oppressed and not being able to make a life for them and for their families.”

Last week, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin proposed to ban sanctuary cities in Kentucky. If approved, that would mean cities could not refuse to help ICE with enforcement and deportation.

Tension around federal immigration policy boiled last year when protesters led a weeks-long demonstration in front of Louisville’s ICE building. That protest brought hundreds to rally downtown and was led, in part, by Mijente’s Ibañez.

Edgardo Mansilla, executive director of the Americana Community Center, said the constant threat of deportation has affected the people his organization serves. Americana is a nonprofit whose mission is to support Louisville’s immigrant, refugee and underserved communities. 

“The major effect is despair, frustration, fear, [and] lack of hope. The idea that we are in a country who supports freedom — that, sadly is no longer there,” Mansilla said. “All these expressions, sadly, are worse now. But they are not new to us.”

Mansilla and Ibañez said the public can help families by volunteering or otherwise supporting their organizations. Define American Executive Director Ryan Eller said the same. Define American is a nonprofit that tells affected peoples’ stories to contextualize the immigration debate. Eller said Louisville’s immigrant community is resilient, but they still fear being kicked out of the U.S.

“We can’t go around the world for centuries spreading the ethos of the American dream and the brilliance of american culture, and then ask people why they’re showing up on our doorstep, ringing our doorbell, asking to come in,” Eller said. “It needs to be a broader, fundamental conversation about who we are as Americans and what those values are.”

Join us next week for In Conversation as we talk about homelessness in Louisville.

Delegates from Latin America visit Louisville, discuss pressing trade and immigration issues Friday, Jul 19 2019 

Trade wars and immigration issues were hot topics among delegates from South and Central America as they discussed the state of trade and connections with the United States at a forum Thursday at the University Club at University of Louisville.  Hosted by the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana and Greater Louisville Inc., […]

This Week On In Conversation: The Local Impact Of Trump’s Immigration Policies Monday, Jul 15 2019 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids threatened by the Trump administration were supposed to begin last weekend, but there was little evidence of action by ICE.  Such raids could lead to the deportation of thousands of immigrant families, especially those who entered the U.S. through the southern border. Though Louisville is not one of the 10 cities ICE planned to target, the threatened sweep is sparking concern among some residents and families across the area. 

President Trump delayed the raids last month, giving lawmakers two weeks to change asylum laws. The administration said the sweep would target immigrant families who missed a court date or whom the court ordered to be removed from the country. It is one of many immigration policies rolled out under the president’s administration.

Last year, protests on federal immigration policies led to a weeks-long demonstration in front of Louisville’s ICE building. That protest brought hundreds to rally downtown and sparked confrontations between protesters and the city.

Governor Matt Bevin recently proposed banning sanctuary cities in Kentucky. Louisville is not a sanctuary city, but a city ordinance  passed two years ago prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to ask that Louisville prove it was not creating sanctuary city policies. A sanctuary city is loosely defined as a city that vows not to assist with immigration enforcement and deportation.

This week on In Conversation, we ask how federal policies have affected Louisville’s Latino community and what local leaders and advocates are doing in response. Our guests will include Edgardo Mansilla from the Americana World Community Center.

Listen to In Conversation live on 89.3 WFPL Friday at 11 a.m. or follow along with our live tweets at @WFPLnews. Call with your questions or comments at 502-814-TALK or tweet us with the hashtag #WFPLconversation. We’re also on Facebook.

Bevin touts proposed bill to outlaw ‘sanctuary cities’ in Kentucky Friday, Jul 12 2019 

Gov. Matt Bevin (left) and state Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, touted a proposed bill to define and outlaw "sanctuary cities" in Kentucky.

Gov. Matt Bevin touted a proposed bill in a news conference on Friday that would define what constitutes a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants in the state and prohibit any local government entity from instituting policies limiting law enforcement from asking an individual about their immigration status and cooperating with federal immigration officials. Though Bevin […]