His­panic ac­tivists com­ing up short in push for vot­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates vowed to make this the year of the anti-Don­ald Trump cit­i­zen­ship surge, hop­ing to sign up 1 mil­lion new ar­rivals ea­ger to send a mes­sage re­ject­ing the Repub­li­can Party’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date — but they are falling short, with nat­u­ral­iza­tion rates only slightly higher than four years ago.

There is lit­tle ques­tion that Mr. Trump’s out­sized rhetoric has an­gered His­panic ac­tivists over­all and Mex­i­can im­mi­grants in par­tic­u­lar. But ap­pli­ca­tions for cit­i­zen­ship are up just 6.6 per­cent com­pared with the same pe­riod in 2012, ac­cord­ing to data from U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices, and ap­provals are down slightly.

Groups say the numbers don’t jibe with the in­ten­sity they de­tect at cit­i­zen­ship work­shops, and they hope the numbers will end up higher.

“I cer­tainly don’t have a crystal ball, but what we’ve seen on the ground is that there’s strong anec­do­tal ev­i­dence that sug­gests peo­ple are turn­ing out in big­ger numbers this year,” said Tara Raghu­veer, deputy di­rec­tor at the Na­tional Part­ner­ship for New Amer­i­cans, which is lead­ing a push for nat­u­ral­iza­tions.

“We saw un­prece­dented turnout at our events across the coun­try. … We feel that the ef­fect of the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate is real and will have real ef­fects on the nat­u­ral­iza­tion numbers,” she said.

Nearly 9 mil­lion peo­ple in the U.S. are el­i­gi­ble for cit­i­zen­ship but haven’t ap­plied, pro­vid­ing a deep bench for the ac­tivists to tar­get.

Of those el­i­gi­ble, about one-third are Mex­i­can — a pool that ac­tivists said are par­tic­u­larly en­raged at Mr. Trump.

The Repub­li­can kicked off his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign last June by say­ing Mex­ico sends rapists and other bad el­e­ments of its so­ci­ety to the U.S.

Mr. Trump has also vowed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der and force the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment to pay for it. More re­cently, he has called a U.S. judge hear­ing a case on Trump Uni­ver­sity bi­ased be­cause of the judge’s Mex­i­can her­itage — a claim that even fel­low Repub­li­cans have deemed racist.

His­panic rights groups in­sisted that vot­ers will pun­ish Mr. Trump for his at­tacks, and anec­dotes abound of His­panic vot­ers say­ing they are ea­ger to send a mes­sage.

But the lat­est controversy may not mo­ti­vate im­mi­grants to be­come cit­i­zens. USCIS said it gen­er­ally takes at least five months to process a cit­i­zen­ship ap­pli­ca­tion, and the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is less than five months away.

April and May fig­ures have not been re­leased, but re­ports from the first three months of the year show 252,254 cit­i­zen­ship ap­pli­ca­tions and 177,713 USCIS ap­provals. Dur­ing the same pe­riod in 2012, the to­tals were 238,065 ap­pli­ca­tions and 179,548 ap­provals.

To be­come a ci­ti­zen, an im­mi­grant usu­ally has to be a le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dent for five years and must pass the cit­i­zen­ship test. There are ex­cep­tions to the wait for those who serve in the mil­i­tary and ex­cep­tions to the cit­i­zen­ship re­quire­ments based on age.

Groups haven’t given up hope of a big­ger surge from April and May.

“We’re go­ing to need to see what hap­pens when it’s all over. We’re keep­ing our eye on it,” said Ros­alind Gold, se­nior di­rec­tor of pol­icy, re­search and ad­vo­cacy at the NALEO Ed­u­ca­tional Fund, which sup­ports His­panic causes.

The record year for new cit­i­zens was 2008, when 1,046,539 peo­ple took the oath. In 2012, the last pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year, 757,434 peo­ple were sworn in as new Amer­i­cans.

The 2008 surge was largely the re­sult of a rush to beat a spike in the ap­pli­ca­tion fee. A smaller in­crease is pend­ing, which could help boost numbers this year.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is try­ing to ease the process. About one-third of those el­i­gi­ble to be­come cit­i­zens would qual­ify for a fee waiver, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion has told ac­tivists that it is mov­ing per­son­nel in an ef­fort to process ap­pli­ca­tions quickly.

Once the im­mi­grants be­come cit­i­zens, it will be up to cam­paigns and ac­tivists to reg­is­ter them to vote and get them, as well as His­pan­ics born in the U.S., to turn out on Elec­tion Day.

His­pan­ics tra­di­tion­ally vote at far lower rates than other groups, but newly nat­u­ral­ized His­pan­ics turn out in higher per­cent­ages than those born in the U.S., Ms. Gold said.

In the key bat­tle­ground state of Florida, just 60.6 per­cent of non-His­panic cit­i­zens voted in 2012, but 68.7 per­cent of nat­u­ral­ized His­pan­ics turned out.

“We are go­ing to be watch­ing how the can­di­dates reach Lati­nos, work to en­gage Lati­nos,” Ms. Gold said. “I think we’re also go­ing to be look­ing at that as the elec­tion gets closer, whether some of the mo­men­tum that’s built up in the pri­maries sus­tains it­self through the gen­eral elec­tion.”

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