Large numbers of immigrants who are permanent residents apply for U.S. citizenship so they can vote in November
Many of them say they're doing it so they can vote against Donald Trump
One attorney says all those new citizens could be "a game changer"
When Donald Trump speaks at one of his rallies, Gisell Broch physically reacts. She cringes.
“He’s like a punch to the gut.”
That punch is so palpable that it’s shaken the Cuba native out of a 22-year contentment at simply holding her green card. Thanks to Trump, she’s seeking her U.S. citizenship in time to vote against him in November.
“He’s a racist,” said Broch, from her front row seat at a naturalization information session in Homestead, Florida. When Broch files her paperwork, she expects she’ll vote for “anyone but Trump” as her first vote as a U.S. citizen.
Trump’s campaign pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and his statement that Mexico sends criminals, drugs and rapists into America have become a rallying cry for Latinos. The Trump campaign says his proposed immigration reforms will end up benefiting legal Latino immigrants.
Like the visible protests at Trump’s rallies, quiet yet powerful protests have been brewing among immigrants who are permanent residents in the United States since Trump’s campaign announcement last June.
Figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show a 14.5% jump in naturalization applications in June-December of 2015 compared with the same six months in the previous year. Federal data does not break down those applications by race, but grass-roots organizations, like the Florida Immigrant Coalition, say their naturalization drives across their swing state are filled primarily by Latinos.
“They feel very unsafe with his words,” said Florida Immigrant Coalition spokesman Ivan Parra. “They want to be respected. For them, it is an emergency.”
Parra was one of the lawyers weaving through people from table to table in a donated space at a mall in Lauderhill, Florida. The event opened at 10 a.m., but the line had begun to form at 5 a.m., said Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness. At least 50 people showed up without appointments, hoping to begin filing paperwork.
Holness said in the 40 years he’s lived in Florida, he’s never seen this many residents filing for citizenship. Naturalization advocates say applications typically spike in election years, but this year has been extraordinary.
“Trump’s tone is getting people scared. Though he’s often saying ‘illegal,’ the legal people who’ve been here don’t feel secure either. They could be next. So for one, they want to protect themselves so they don’t get thrown out for any reason. Two, they want to make sure they’re engaged to the extent that they can contribute to insuring that Trump’s not the person,” he said.
Grass-roots groups point to the enormous population that for many years didn’t pursue citizenship, often citing the $680 fee as a factor. And though permanent residents are eligible to vote in local and state elections, only citizens can vote in presidential elections. The opportunity presented by Trump’s candidacy seems to have trumped that once-prohibitive cost to apply, said Catholic Legal Services’ Raul Hernandez.
“If that is the motivation for them to become citizens, I welcome the motivation,” said Hernandez. He adds that if all those residents become naturalized, “it’s a game changer.”
“It’s going to be a totally different political situation – folks with a different view of what a citizen is, raising their voice, saying, ‘I’m here and I want to have a say in the future of the nation,’” he said.
Data from the University of Southern California Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration shows in the United States, 4.5 million Latinos are eligible for naturalization. In the swing states, those potential voters are a sizable voting bloc. Nevada has more than 64,000 eligible to become citizens. Colorado has some 57,000. Florida is home to 415,000, according to Catholic Legal Services.
In Republican strongholds, the numbers give a glimpse into the future. Arizona has at least 139,000 Latinos eligible to become naturalized. Texas has at least 750,000.
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“This is a direct result of his words,” said Maria Elena Salinas, Univision anchor and vocal Donald Trump critic. “This time around this is different. They’re going out specifically to stop Donald Trump.”
Salinas is the co-anchor of Noticiero Univision, the nightly newscast of the United States’ most watched Spanish-language television network and is one of the most recognized and trusted Latina journalists in America.
Shortly after Trump entered the race, Salinas penned an editorial sharply criticizing the Republican front-runner. She also anchors with Jorge Ramos, famously tossed out of a Trump news conference when he attempted to confront Trump on his immigration proposals and refused to sit down.
Univision is owned by Haim Saban, a wealthy political donor who has poured millions into Hillary Clinton’s super PACs and candidacy.
Univision, as a powerful media conglomerate, has joined unapologetically with grass-roots groups to get out the Latino vote in November.
Why I’m voting for Donald Trump
Salinas sees this election season as a battle that Latinos have united across cultures to take on. “You feel it. You know Donald Trump is your enemy, because he declared war. He declared us enemies. There’s something powerful to say about the vote. It’s a weapon.”
Based on what Salinas has seen this election cycle, she makes this prediction: “The very same group he has been attacking is the one that’s going to stop him from going to the White House. In November of this year, the Latino vote is going to stop Donald Trump.”
Sixty-four-year-old Colombian native Edgar Ripoll plans to be a part of that bloc that stops Trump in November. In the United States since 1991, Ripoll raised his two children in the States and sent one son into the U.S. military. The centerpiece of his life was working hard and living lawfully and peacefully. But the anger that’s the driving emotion in Trump’s rise has captured Ripoll this election. Ripoll is angry as well, and is channeling that rage into his first vote this November.
“Many of us are against his campaign and his policies,” he said. Playing off Trump’s campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again,” Ripoll added, “Latinos make the country great.”