Communities

The Race To Naturalize 8 Million Immigrants, To Prevent A Trump Presidency

by Alicia Kennedy

May 25, 2016
Maria Antonio protests in East Los Angeles (Getty Images)

The 2016 presidential primary season has been a strange and scary one, with perhaps one persistent truth: Most Latinos really hate Donald Trump (though there are at least 18,902 who don’t, and they have their reasons). Such hate isn't a reaction to his bad hair or tiny hands, but a concerted effort that he’s made on the campaign trail to rally together Republicans using xenophobic rhetoric. Spirits company Ilegal Mezcal condensed this hate into a tidy slogan, with posters and graffiti in major cities that read, "Donald, Eres un Pendejo” (loosely, Donald you’re a jackass). They even recently organized a global take-a-shot-of-mezcal-against-Trump moment to raise money for Niños de Guatemala

Now, in addition to the synchronized shots, there’s a movement under way—ahead of November’s election—to naturalize the more than 8 million legal permanent residents currently living in the U.S.

Easier said than done, of course, or the fight for immigration reform wouldn’t be so long and protracted. In 2014, President Obama put forth an executive action that would save the parents of U.S. citizens from deportation; Republican states blocked it. What we’re seeing now is the concerted effort of immigrant rights groups using funds raised to help these legal residents gain citizenship. The L.A. Times reports more than 3,000 people recently received free help filling out citizenship applications in Long Beach, California. In New York City, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs has launched a major initiative called NYCitizenship to provide legal counsel and more for free in public libraries. Cool, right? 

The question remains—can this save us from President Trump? David Mullins, who handles citizenship applications at the New York Legal Assistance Group, gave us a primer on the naturalization process to help figure it out.

First things first, to become a naturalized citizen of the U.S., you need to have had a green card for five years and lived here during that time (or three years if you’re married to a U.S. citizen), speak English, be person of "good moral character" (“a.k.a. not have certain arrests or convictions,” says Mullins) and pass a history/civics exam. The English requirement is waived if you're over a certain age and have had a green card for at least 15 or 20 years.

The application itself encompasses about 20 pages of biographical info, like address, work history, and every organization you’re a member of. There are also “a million yes and no questions, ranging from whether or not you’re a terrorist to do you support the Constitution,” says Mullins. How quickly an application is processed varies widely from place to place—the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services says that in New York City, for example, people who filed in August 2015 are being interviewed now. 

Will these filings have an impact come November? To determine that, Mullins looked at cities in the super-contested swing states of Ohio and Florida: In the former, waits are between five and ten months; the latter, seven to nine.

This timeline gives California-based attorney Robert Perkins—who goes by the title The Immigration Professor—cautious optimism about the potential for this movement to have a real impact. He’s been in the business for 27 years and is seeing clients of all nationalities now concerned that the U.S. could elect a xenophobic president. “This comes from not only Latinos but people from China, people from Malaysia, people from France—people from all stripes and all socioeconomic backgrounds,” says Perkins. “I have a friend from China who's been here 20 years; it’s only now that she's bothering me to get her naturalized.” 

According to him, the process takes an average of five months. “It's going to be tough to get that done unless the Obama administration were to speed up the process,” he says. There are times when it takes only three months, though, so if there’s a concerted effort on behalf of those fielding applications, it’s possible that a whole new wave of Americans could swing the election. Over the last four years alone, 1.2 million Latinos have become naturalized citizens—many in the all-important state of Florida—and any boost to that number would likely be a boon to the GOP’s opposition come November. 

All that said, the answer we’re left with to the question of whether we can naturalize our way to a Trump-free White House is maybe. It can’t hurt to go back to where we started: Doing shots and hoping for the best.

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The Race To Naturalize 8 Million Immigrants, To Prevent A Trump Presidency