Teresa Watanabe reports in today’s L.A. Times that the number of Mexican-born immigrants who became U.S. citizens increased by nearly 50% in 2007, as a result of citizenship campaigns coordinated by Spanish-language media and immigrant activist groups. Watanabe explains further:
Despite Mexicans’ historically low rates of naturalization, 122,000 attained citizenship in 2007, up from 84,000 the previous year, with California and Texas posting the largest gains. Salvadorans and Guatemalans also showed significant increases at a time when the overall number of naturalizations declined by 6%
At the same time, the number of citizenship applications filed doubled to 1.4 million last year, the report by the U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics found….The report cited the campaign by Spanish-language media and community groups, along with a desire to apply before steep fee increases took effect, as two major reasons for the jump in naturalizations
The surge in enfranchised Latinos may have significant political benefits for Dems, even in FL, Watanabe explains:
Louis DiSipio, a UC Irvine political science professor, said one of the biggest impacts could be in Florida, a key battleground state that posted 54,500 new citizens last year. Although the ethnic Cuban population there has dominated the Latino political landscape and tended to vote Republican, he said, more of the newer immigrants are coming from South America and trending Democratic. For the first time this decade, more Latinos were registered as Democrats than Republicans, 35% to 33% as of this spring, according to Gold.
But Dems will have to work for it:
Gold said that new Latino citizens have higher voting rates than longtime Mexican Americans and that their political allegiances are shallower. As a result, she said, their votes are still up for grabs for those elected officials willing to work hard to reach them. In addition, she said, the proportion of Latino voters identifying themselves as independents is growing.
In any event, the naturalization movement is picking up speed:
Erica L. Bernal-Martinez, senior director of civic engagement for the association of Latino officials, said grass-roots organizations planned to continue their push to encourage naturalizations among the estimated 4 million to 5 million eligible Latinos. Mexicans have historically had low rates of naturalization — 35% compared with 59% for all immigrants — but that appears to be changing as media and community organizations pour unprecedented resources and energy into their civic engagement campaigns, Bernal-Martinez and Gold said.
More than 400 community organizations across the country, along with major Spanish-language media, have joined forces in a “Ya Es Hora” (It’s Time) campaign to help eligible voters become citizens and register to vote. The campaign plans to hold naturalization workshops in 10 cities Saturday.
Latino naturalizations soared last year despite an overall drop in the number of naturalizations, caused by expired funding for processing citizenship applications. Watanabe reports that “After Mexico, the largest number of new citizens came from India, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, South Korea and El Salvador.”