Citizenship Drive Sputters Ahead of Election

Drive Up for CitizenshipDrive Although immigrant-advocacy groups began campaigning to drive citizenship ahead of the November 2016 elections, the effort appears to be falling short as naturalization applications are up only slightly over the same period in 2012. While an estimated 8.8 million immigrants are eligible to obtain naturalized citizenship, citizenship applications submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are up a mere 6.6 percent over applications submitted at this time four years ago.

At the heart of the push for naturalizing legal immigrants is the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee. Trump’s targeted rhetoric around undocumented immigrants coming into the United States from Mexico has meant immigration advocates feel a stronger sense of urgency to see eligible immigrants gain citizenship through the naturalization process. Approximately 2.7 million naturalization-eligible immigrants are Mexican and comprise the largest single demographic among the group.

Although the overall hispanic population tends to vote at a lower rate than other ethnic groups, newly-naturalized Latinos have a track record of voting at a higher rate than those who are U.S. born. During the 2012 election for instance, the state of Florida saw only a 60.6 percent of non-hispanic citizens vote compared to 68.7 percent of naturalized Latinos who cast a ballot.

According to a May story from the New York Times, naturalization rates among Mexicans have stagnated at low rate over the recent decades. Among Mexican immigrants, only 36 percent have chosen to naturalize. This compares to an overall rate of 68 percent among all other immigrants, according to reported numbers from the Pew Research Center.

Despite the intensity with which immigrant advocates have brought forth in citizenship campaigns through workshops and other efforts, the numbers simply fall short of hoped-for levels. From January to April of this year, the latest available numbers, just over 252,000 immigrants submitted citizenship applications. USCIS approved more than 177,000 of these. And while April, May and June numbers aren’t yet available, the number of new-citizen voters is likely topped out as the application and approval process for naturalization takes about five months from beginning to end. This means the window of time left to apply for naturalization in time to vote in November is already passed.

The drive to move eligible immigrants to citizenship has been particularly strong in states with high numbers of noncitizen immigrants. These include California, Colorado, Nevada and Florida. Operating on the assumption that immigrant citizens are more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate instead of the Republican candidate, those promoting naturalization saw their effort as an avenue to defeat Trump’s bid for the White House.

“People who are eligible are really feeling the urgency to get out there,” Tara Raghuveer, the deputy director of the National Partnership for New Americans, told the Times. “They are worried by the prospect that someone who is running for president has said hateful things.”

Despite the intensity with which immigrant advocates have brought forth in citizenship campaigns through workshops and other efforts, the numbers simply fall short of hoped-for levels.

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