National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Media

New Campaign Emphasizes the Political Power that Comes with Citizenship

April 10, 2012

Civil and Immigrant Rights Organizations Urge Eligible Immigrants to Apply for Citizenship before End of April

To listen to the recording of today’s call, please click here.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Harsh state immigration laws, such as Arizona’s S.B. 1070, have become a deciding motivator for eligible Latinos, Asians and other immigrant groups to naturalize and become active in the political process. By applying now, eligible residents can become citizens in time to register and vote in this fall’s elections.

Nearly 8.1 million legal permanent residents of the United States are eligible to become naturalized citizens, including numbers that could shift the political landscape in many states. On a press call today hosted by the National Immigration Forum, advocates — and a Florida resident who is in the process of applying for citizenship — spoke about the political power and responsibility that are integral to American citizenship, as well as resources that are available to help eligible legal permanent residents navigate the application process.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, shared information about the potential number of newly naturalized voters and how they could tip the scales in the November elections. In Arizona, 170,000 people, or 3.9 percent of the voting-eligible population, are eligible for citizenship. In North Carolina, the 80,000 eligible immigrants would make up 1.2 percent of the voting-eligible population. The number of potential new voters in North Carolina is noteworthy, as it far exceeds the very narrow margin of victory (14,177 votes) by which Barack Obama defeated John McCain in North Carolina in 2008.

One of the 710,000 immigrants eligible for citizenship in Florida — 5.5 percent of the voting-eligible population — is Diana B. Díaz, an immigrant from Colombia who is in the process of applying for citizenship. She spoke about how an increasingly vicious immigration debate helped persuade her and her family to apply and participate in the upcoming elections. Mrs. Díaz said, “I watched very closely as Arizona passed the toughest immigration law in the nation, causing Latinos in Arizona to fear discrimination. The possibility of Florida following Arizona’s footsteps became real as Florida politicians debated last year passing legislation mirroring the Arizona law. Thankfully, the measures never became law, but I couldn’t stop thinking what would have happened if they did. Would my mom be hassled by police because of her limited English, even though she is a legal immigrant? Should I be worried that people would constantly be questioning my immigration status because of this new law?

“I realized that it was time to engage in American politics. As the debate over immigration continues to turn angry, I want to make my voice heard instead of standing on the sidelines as others decide on my life and the future of my family. I want to be able speak up for my friends and neighbors, for those who do not have a voice. And the first step to full political participation is to become a U.S. citizen.”

Clarissa Martínez, Director of Immigration and National Campaigns at the National Council of La Raza, spoke about the increasing hostile immigration debate and how Latinos and immigrants can stand up against it. “Imagine the kind of voice and attention Latinos and immigrants can bring to the issue facing the nation if a greater number of immigrants took that step of becoming a citizen and becoming a voter,” said Mrs. Martínez. “We have a lot challenges in front of us, but the wholesale demonization of immigrants, and those who are perceived to be immigrant, is not only an affront to the immigrant community, it is an affront against the values that our nation holds dear. Those who are eligible to become citizens now can do something about it, by taking the first step of becoming a citizen.”

Petra Falcón, Executive Director of Promise Arizona, spoke about last year’s recall of Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce, the architect of the S.B. 1070 law. “The elections of last November in Arizona were historic, not only by their political context but because the citizen participation was impressive,” Falcón said. “Minority, especially Latino, voters marched, but this time to the ballot box to show that they have a great civic power.”

“We need more immigrants to become American citizens to help us stop these anti-immigrant policies, which are the modern-day version of the Chinese Exclusion Act,” stressed Connie Choi, Staff Attorney and Citizenship Network Manager for the Immigration and Citizenship Project at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. “We stand in solidarity with other communities of color in fighting these laws, which, as we’ve seen, result in indiscriminate targeting of entire immigrant communities.”

Participants announced a new social media campaign through Reform Immigration FOR America to encourage eligible immigrants to naturalize and participate in our democracy. “The campaign, titled ‘Mas Respeto, Become a Citizen!’ urges eligible immigrants to stand up against discriminatory laws such as S.B. 1070 and demand more respeto, or respect, for immigrant communities by naturalizing and participating in the political process.

Immigrants interested in becoming citizens will be directed to www.mycitizenshipmyvote.org or www.masrespeto.org for more information on how to begin the naturalization process and available naturalization resources such as CitizenshipWorks, a website that provides free tutorials and online tools to help individuals answer questions about their eligibility for naturalization, better understand the process, find legal help, and prepare for the naturalization test and interview. A nationwide text message campaign is also available, where eligible immigrants can text “citizenship” or “ciudadania” to 877877 for the location of nearby citizenship assistance providers.

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For information on the top 20 states of residence of immigrants eligible for citizenship please visit: http://tinyurl.com/NatzbyState

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