Immigrants are applying to become naturalized U.S. citizens at unprecedented rates, the New York Times reports, largely in response to Donald Trump. The pace of applications is gathering speed weekly: There could be as many as a million by the end of 2016—about 200,000 more than the average.
According to the Times, there is almost always an increase in naturalization during presidential election years, but Trump’s nativist policy proposals and racist rhetoric has inspired many more of the 8.8 million legal residents who are eligible to naturalize to take steps to do so than usual. As it happens, about 2.7 million of that 8.8 million are Mexicans.
The White House is also encouraging legal residents to apply for naturalization, and recently announced $10 million in grants to nonprofit groups helping immigrants to navigate the labyrinthine system. From the Times:
Among the groups the White House is supporting are immigrant rights organizations and labor unions, which say their goal in holding dozens of citizenship workshops this spring is to build immigrant voting power. They want to boost support for legislation creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which Mr. Obama has long promised but has never been able to push through Congress. Recently naturalized immigrants, after all the effort they must make, are more likely to vote than longtime citizens.
“People who are eligible are really feeling the urgency to get out there,” said Tara Raghuveer, deputy director of the National Partnership for New Americans, a coalition that helped put on the workshop in Denver. “They are worried by the prospect that someone who is running for president has said hateful things.”
Last month, the Guardian reported on a series of citizenship clinics (referred to as a “naturalization blitz”) being held across the country ahead of voting in places like Florida and Nevada. There is no deadline for immigrants to apply for citizenship, but given that the process can take several months the labor unions and activist groups organizing the effort want to get as many applications in as early as possible, to ensure that people are eligible to vote in the general election come November.
“This is a big deal,” Jocelyn Sida of Mi Familia Vota, a partner in a clinic in Nevada, told the Guardian. “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.”
“It’s not just the Donald Trump situation,” she continued. “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.”
Trump, no doubt, welcomes the wave of applications, as he says he expects Latinos to support him. “I’m just telling you that I will do really well with Hispanics,” he said in the February 26 Republican debate in Houston.
In 2012, Mitt Romney won 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, prompting RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to declare that the party “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” According to a Washington Post/Univision poll last month, however, 8 in 10 Hispanic voters have an unfavorable view of Trump, including more than 7 in 10 who have a “very unfavorable” view of him.
Meanwhile, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto compared Trump’s language to that of Benito Mussolini—a particularly apt comparison—and Adolf Hitler “There have been episodes in the history of humanity, unfortunately, where these expressions, this strident rhetoric, has only really led to ominous scenarios in the history of humanity,” he told the daily newspaper, Excelsior.
“That’s how Mussolini and Hitler arrived. They took advantage of a context, maybe a problem, that humanity was experiencing at the time, after an economic crisis. And I think that what was proposed led to what we know from history, a global conflagration.”