Trump's Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Fuels Citizenship Push in Miami

It turns out Donald Trump might be the perfect presidential candidate for Latinos after all. No, no — not to actually be president. But to inspire millions to get out and vote.

As Trump spews xenophobic anti-immigration rhetoric and vows to build an impenetrable wall along the Mexican border, local political organizers are capitalizing on the backlash as a chance to enroll a new segment of voters in Miami. Next Saturday, October 3, for instance, a “citizenship clinic” in Little Havana will help permanent residents become citizens by advising them on their rights and assisting them in filling out confusing naturalization forms.

“We’re helping people realize they can come out of the shadows and naturalize,” says William Cossio, a Miami community leader and Cuban-American working with SEIU Florida on the event at St. John Bosco Church, “and then go to the voting booth.”

In the 2012 presidential election, only 48 percent of eligible Hispanic voters cast ballots, according to the Pew Research Center. Now an estimated 5.4 million Latinos across the nation are legal permanent residents, according to Pew, which means they’re eligible to become U.S. citizens and vote by next year. Those eligible for citizenship include permanent residents of at least five years. Spouses of U.S. citizens who have been permanent residents for at least three years are also eligible to naturalize.

“If we were to achieve 60 percent registration of these permanent residents and make them voters, we could alter elections and change these immigration messages forever,” Cossio says. “This can change history.”

After filing Form N-400, the “Application for Naturalization," the naturalization process can take up to nine months, just in time for next November's elections. But minor mistakes on an application can result in lengthy delays. 

At the upcoming Miami clinic, which Cossio says will be the first of a series, attendees can learn about the path to citizenship and how to avoid common mistakes along the way. Lawyers will review applications. Workshops will train permanent residents to respond to questions they’re likely to be asked in an interview. And volunteers, including many who’ve been through the process themselves, will be on hand to answer questions and translate for nonnative speakers.

“I think there’s a silver lining in all of this,” Cossio says about the campaign negativity. “A lot of Americans and a lot of people in the Hispanic community now see their vote does count.”
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Jessica Weiss