Latinos Seek Citizenship to Block Trump ; Harsh Language Prompts Residents to Naturalize So They Can Vote for a Rival

By Preston, Julia | International New York Times, March 8, 2016 | Go to article overview

Latinos Seek Citizenship to Block Trump ; Harsh Language Prompts Residents to Naturalize So They Can Vote for a Rival


Preston, Julia, International New York Times


Mr. Trumps harsh language against Mexican immigrants has compelled legal residents to seek citizenship in time to vote against him in November.

Donald J. Trump's harsh campaign rhetoric against Mexican immigrants has helped him win a substantial delegate lead in the Republican primary, but it is also mobilizing a different set of likely voters -- six of them alone in the family of Hortensia Villegas.

A legal immigrant from Mexico, Ms. Villegas is a mother of two who has been living in the United States for nearly a decade but never felt compelled to become a citizen. But as Mr. Trump has surged toward the Republican nomination, Ms. Villegas -- along with her sister, her parents and her husband's parents -- has joined a rush by many Latino immigrants to naturalize in time to vote in November.

"I want to vote so Donald Trump won't win," said Ms. Villegas, 32, one of several hundred legal residents, mostly Mexicans, who crowded one recent Saturday into a Denver union hall. Volunteers helped them fill out applications for citizenship, which this year are taking about five months for federal officials to approve. "He doesn't like us," she said.

Over all, naturalization applications increased by 11 percent in the 2015 fiscal year over the year before, and jumped 14 percent during the six months ending in January, according to federal figures. The pace is picking up by the week, advocates say, and they estimate applications could approach 1 million in 2016, about 200,000 more than the average in recent years.

While naturalizations generally rise during presidential election years, Mr. Trump provided an extra boost this year. He kicked off his campaign in June describing Mexicans as drug-traffickers and rapists. His pledge to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it has been a regular applause line. He has vowed to create a deportation force to expel the estimated 11 million immigrants here illegally, evoking mass roundups of the 1950s.

Among 8.8 million legal residents eligible to naturalize, about 2.7 million are Mexicans, the largest national group, federal figures show. But after decades of low naturalization rates, only 36 percent of eligible Mexicans have become citizens, while 68 percent of all other immigrants have done so, according to the Pew Research Center.

"A lot of people are opening their eyes because of all the negative stuff Donald Trump has brought," said Ms. Villegas's husband, Miguel Garfio, 30, who was born and raised in Colorado and came to the workshop here to help his wife and other family members become citizens this year. His parents came from Mexico in the 1980s and worked hard all their lives, he said, helping him create a construction company in Denver that now employs 18 people. Contrary to Mr. Trump's depiction, he said, none of his relatives have criminal records.

This year immigrants seeking to become citizens can find extra help from nonprofit groups and even from the White House. Last September, President Obama began a national campaign to galvanize legal residents to take the step. They can now pay the fee, $680, with a credit card, and practice the civics test online. They can get applications at "citizenship corners" in public libraries in many states.

The White House recruited Fernando Valenzuela, the celebrated Mexican-born pitcher who naturalized only last year, and Jose Andres, the Spanish-American chef, to make encouraging advertisements and to turn up at swearing-in ceremonies. On Presidents' Day, administration officials swore in more than 20,000 new citizens. On Wednesday the administration announced $10 million in grants to groups guiding immigrants through the process.

The majority of Latinos are Democrats, and some Republicans accuse the White House of leading a thinly veiled effort to expand the ranks of the president's party. But administration officials argue the campaign is nonpartisan, noting that immigrants who become citizens improve their incomes and chances for homeownership. …

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