Donald Trump’s remarks spur Latino ’naturalization blitz’ before election

Citizenship clinics being organized in battleground states

From The Guardian this week:

Donald Trump’s scathing rhetoric about Latin American immigrants is galvanizing a movement in the community to pursue American citizenship and register in key battleground states.

In what campaigners are calling a “naturalization blitz”, workshops are being hosted across the country to facilitate Hispanic immigrants who are legal, permanent residents and will only qualify to vote in the 2016 presidential election if they upgrade their immigration status.

Citizenship clinics will take place in Nevada, Colorado, Texas and California later this month, with other states expected to host classes in February and early March in order to make the citizenship deadline required to vote in November.

The Republican frontrunner’s hostile remarks about Latino immigrants is driving people to the workshops.

This Saturday, 300 legal permanent residents are set to attend one of the workshops in Las Vegas, where they will be provided with naturalization paperwork, lawyers will offer on-site counsel and, in some cases, financial aid will be made available to help cover the $680 application fee.

Trump, who has branded Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, and has made the construction of a wall along the southern US border a pillar of his campaign for the White House, is increasingly viewed as the likely Republican candidate for 2016. His anti-immigrant statements have received even more coverage in Spanish-language media than they did in English-language press.

“Our messaging will be very sharply tied to the political moment, urging immigrants and Latinos to respond to hate with political action and power,” said Maria Ponce of iAmerica Action, an immigrant rights campaign sponsored by the Service Employees International Union.

Several labor unions and advocacy groups are collaborating on the project. In Las Vegas, organizers also intend to hold mock caucuses to educate new voters on the state’s complicated primary process. Nevada is the first early voting state to feature a large Latino population, and that group is eager to make itself known.

“This is a big deal,” said Jocelyn Sida of Mi Familia Vota, a partner in the Nevada event. “We as Latinos are always being told that we’re taking jobs or we’re anchor babies, and all these things are very hurtful. It’s getting to the point where folks are frustrated with that type of rhetoric. They realize the only way they can stop this is by getting involved civically.”

Efforts to increase minority participation in swing state elections are nothing new. Nevada’s powerful Culinary Union has been holding such events for its 57,000 members and their families since 2001. Yet never before has there been a galvanizing figure of the bogeyman variety quite like Trump.

“It’s shameful,” said Maria Polanco, a Honduran woman pursing citizenship after 26 years in the US. “Those comments hurt us a lot. We are not perfect, but the majority of us are not what Donald Trump says. We came looking for better opportunities for us and our kids. My great pride is that my daughter graduated from college – I don’t think she could’ve done that in my country.”

Advocates say their citizenship events in late 2015 attracted droves of people like Polanco who have been eligible to apply for citizenship for decades, yet only felt compelled to do so now.

For Polanco and her friends, pricey and time-consuming English classes have always made the naturalization process seem too daunting. Now, she said, in light of the ongoing Central American child migrant crisis, as well as promises on the right to “deport all the illegals”, Polanco feels guilty to have waited so long to pursue the right to vote.

“Lots of people who for various reasons have not gotten their citizenship are now at the point where they will,” she added.

There are 8.8 million legal permanent residents in the US, according to the Department of Homeland Security, and 90,000 of them are in the swing state of Nevada. David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said in terms of partisanship, what is happening is a boon to Democrats.

“One of the biggest incubators of political attitudes is family, with children at least initially following the lead of their parents,” Damore said. “This dynamic is missing for many immigrants, and as a consequence their political socialization is shaped by the current political environment.”

Damore noted that “immigrants are hearing a welcoming message from one party and hostile rhetoric from the other, and this can have profound long-term consequences in terms of partisan identification and voting behavior”.

His research has shown that anti-immigrant messaging and policies can increase not only the rates of political participation among Latinos, but also rates of naturalization. “And naturalized Latinos often vote at a higher rate than native born Latinos,” he added.

Polanco is inclined to support Hillary Clinton, she said, but her daughter (who is also a naturalized citizen) is encouraging her to support Bernie Sanders. For now, the matriarch remains undecided. She is only certain that she won’t vote for a Republican.

“It’s not just the Donald Trump situation,” said Sida of Mi Familia Vota. “Mostly, it’s just not wanting to be suppressed anymore. They want to elect people who are going to propose a good pathway to citizenship, a good pathway for education and healthcare, a good pathway for a better life here in America. They want to have that voice.”

In February and March, citizenship clinics are planned for 15 states, including Florida and Nevada. Regional news coverage from Telemundo and Univision has already helped market the effort, and beneficiaries of Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program are infusing energy as volunteers in hopes that the new citizens will support politicians sympathetic to immigrant causes.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see them go through,” said Sida. “They fill out their form, they submit it, they go ahead and take the test. Then they get sworn in and bam,they register and they vote, all in a year.”