White House officials announced the beginning of a nationwide campaign on Thursday that will encourage legal immigrants to become American citizens, which could add millions of voters to the electorate in time for the presidential election next year.
There are about 8.8 million legal residents in the country who are eligible to become American citizens. White House officials say they are trying to make it easier to complete the final steps to citizenship.
The USCIS, the federal agency in charge of naturalizations, will offer practice tests on mobile devices for the civics exam that immigrants must pass, but which many find intimidating. They will also be holding preparatory workshops in rural areas. Applicants will also be able to pay the fee, still a heavy $680, with a credit card.
The White House is working with regional immigrant groups to organize more than 70 citizenship workshops and about 200 naturalization ceremonies in the coming week alone. Four citizenship ambassadors have been named, including Fernando Valenzuela, the Mexican-born former pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who recently became an American citizen after many years in the U.S.
The officials mentioned they had started the campaign this week because Thursday is Citizenship Day. But the White House is also aware of federal figures that show about 60 percent of immigrants eligible to naturalize are Latino and about 20 percent are Asian, both groups that voted overwhelmingly for President Obama. Nearly a third of legal residents eligible to naturalize are Mexican.
For now, the White House officials have turned to the citizenship drive, which offers nothing for immigrants without legal status. To be eligible for naturalization, immigrants must have been legal permanent residents for at least three years, and in most cases, five years. The officials insisted the effort was nonpartisan.
“We want to build off the negative energy,” said Tara Raghuveer, policy and advocacy director for the National Partnership for New Americans, a coalition of immigrant groups that is holding dozens of events during the campaign. “People are hearing the hate and racist xenophobia on the national stage from the presidential candidates. They are angry, and this is an opportunity for us to organize.”