More people are filing to become citizens in the face of anti-immigration politics

Post on April 25, 2016, 2:00 pm by the-victoria-law-group 0 Comments


At a recent fair at the Long Beach Convention Center, more than 3,000 immigrants got free help filling out citizenship applications and practiced casting ballots at mock voting booths.

Events like this almost certainly were not what Republicans intended when they blocked President Obama‘s program to shield millions of immigrants from deportation. But the new nationwide push to help more than 8 million legal permanent residents become citizens — and therefore potential voters — is a direct consequence of Republican resistance to Obama administration immigration policies.

In 2014, Obama announced executive actions to protect millions of parents of U.S. citizens from deportation. In anticipation, immigrant rights groups, backed by major philanthropies, set aside millions of dollars for efforts to help people apply.

But the program never came to pass. Twenty-six Republican states sued to stop it, alleging that Obama’s plans exceeded his legal authority.

With the fate of the program in the hands of the Supreme Court, advocacy groups found themselves with money and volunteers but nothing to do. Looking for other places to put their resources, they decided to work on gaining citizenship for immigrants who were residing in the U.S. legally but had not yet been naturalized.

In California alone, there are an estimated 2.2 million legal permanent residents who are eligible for citizenship but have not applied.

“What we can do right now is help people become citizens so that we can build political power while we’re waiting,” said Ramiro Funez, a spokesman for Unite Here, a union that represents hospitality workers, many of whom are immigrants. “It’s kind of one of the only options we have right now.”

His union has been holding citizenship workshops around the country, including a recent one in Orange County. In Nevada, a key battleground in presidential elections, Funez said the union was close to its goal of helping 2,000 people apply for citizenship in a two-month period that began March 1.

Organizers say another factor has driven the push for citizenship this election year. His name is Donald Trump.

The Republican presidential candidate’s harsh words about Mexican immigrants, whom he has called drug dealers and rapists, helped attract Virgilio Herrera to the citizenship workshop in Long Beach.

Herrera, 49, who works in the oil fields of Bakersfield, came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico 35 years ago.

He and his wife won green cards — legal residency — under President Reagan’s 1986 amnesty plan. But even though they have several U.S.-born children, the couple never became citizens, put off in large part by the nearly $700 application fee.

Things are different now, Herrera said. “We need to be the voice for those who don’t have it,” he said. “Donald Trump sounds like Hitler.”

The “Protect Yourself Now!” workshop was a collaboration between local Spanish-language channels and several nonprofit and philanthropic groups, including the California Community Foundation.

The group originally had planned to spend $1.4 million to help people apply for protection from deportation under Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program. But after DAPA was put on hold, the organization joined with a Mexican American philanthropic group called Juntos Podemos to spend $3.2 million on getting people to become citizens.

“These are the activation moments,” said Efrain Escobedo, vice president of civic engagement and public policy at the California Community Foundation.


Read Kate Linthicum – LA times article here:

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