Immigration and the 11 million undocumented folks living in the United States have been catapulted to the forefront of American politics and have become the over-hyped, fabricated non-problem of the day. Donald Trump launched his campaign for president by spewing hateful rhetoric about “Mexican rapists” and scapegoating minorities in a shameful appeal to the Republican Party’s xenophobic, racist base. While the move may have allowed Trump to skyrocket to number one in the polls, it prompted millions of Americans with an undocumented immigrant family member to start looking for ways to push back against the right-wing hate that has been the focal point of the race for the White House; luckily for us, President Obama is stepping in and has sent a resounding message of support to legal American immigrants and a firm rebuke of Trump’s divisive rabble-rousing.
On Thursday, the White House announced plans to help the 8.8 million legal immigrants in the country to become American citizens. The “Stand Stronger” Citizenship Awareness Campaign will be a multifaceted effort to change their immigration status so that they can fight back against the GOP hate in voting booths.
The outreach program will include a number of new ways to help the immigrants who want to become citizens. It includes:
- allow naturalization fees to be paid by credit card
- online civics practice tests
- a mobile citizenship class locator, including where to find English classes
- four prominent new Americans and children of immigrants as Presidential Ambassadors for Citizenship and Naturalization.
- expand the availability of pro-bono legal services to eligible legal immigrants
The pro-bono legal service expansion is huge. Contrary to popular Republican belief, the road to citizenship is not only difficult, but is costs thousands of dollars — and that’s before attorney fees. For this reason many immigrants receive their “green card” and never become full-fledged American citizens- many of them just cannot afford it. Pro-bono legal services will help millions of people who do not have the money to pay a lawyer who will help them navigate the bumpy road to citizenship.
While the Obama Administration is not necessarily saying this new push for citizenship is a partisan effort, it almost certainly is. Karthick Ramakrishnan, a public policy professor at the University of California, explained why:
“Anytime there’s a major push for naturalization by the White House … especially when a Democratic administration does it, there’s always the allegation that this is an attempt to try to get more Democratic voters.”
The Republican Party is terrified of millions of new citizens, because they know that Latinos vote for Democratic candidates in much higher numbers (2-1) than they vote for GOP candidates. The reason Hispanic voters are not fond of the right-wing isn’t that difficult to figure out- just take a look at Donald Trump. However, the New York billionaire isn’t the first member of his party to use immigrants as his personal punching bag, the GOP has been doing it for years; but the rhetoric is especially vile and inflammatory this campaign season and has prompted widespread condemnation and outrage across the country. The easiest way to fight against hate is at the polls and that’s what they are going to do.
Tara Raghuveer, the policy and advocacy director at the National Partnership for New Americans, one of the community partners working with the White House to promote citizenship, said her organization is encouraging people to become citizens “specifically in response to all the hate we’ve been seeing on a national stage about immigration recently.”
She added, “We’re telling people to naturalize now; we’ve had enough of this anti-immigrant rhetoric, and it’s time for us to step up.”
It is unlikely that there will suddenly be more than eight million new voters in time for the next election, but it could have an effect on long-term public policy. Manuel Pastor, director of the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration told NPR that after California passed the anti-immigrant Prop 187 in the 1990s, naturalization rates increased dramatically.
This push for citizenship is an amazing move by President Obama. He is going to help millions of people protect themselves against the vitriolic, anti-immigrant Republican Party, who would love nothing more than to rip millions of families apart. The GOP should be absolutely terrified, in order to win a presidential election they need more than 40 percent of the Latino vote to win; Mitt Romney only received 23 percent and he was far less hateful than Trump. Imagine what would happen if there are 8 million new voters in the next decade, 5.4 million of them Latino? The Republican Party will never see the inside of the White House again.
Watch President Obama’s first “Stand Stronger” initiative video:
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.