- 33,000 in Florida alone apply for citizenship in 1st quarter
- Quarter million new Americans seen mostly backing Clinton
Delcy Vasquez, a native of the Dominican Republic and resident of Florida, used the help on offer from Mexico to become a U.S. citizen. She’s looking forward to casting a ballot against Donald Trump.
"I’ve become very interested in voting," said the 63-year-old hairdresser, who lives in the Orlando area. "We can’t have a president who ridicules Latinos."
Vasquez took advantage of a campaign hosted by Mexican consulates in which community groups offer free legal advice to help naturalize U.S. immigrants. She’s one of 33,000 people who applied in Florida alone, a state that handed George W. Bush the presidency in 2000 by a margin of 537 votes and that Trump needs to win to defeat Hillary Clinton.
"The implications potentially are titanic," said Fernand Amandi, a principal at Miami-based opinion-research firm Bendixen & Amandi who worked for Clinton’s campaign in 2008 but isn’t working for a candidate this year. Florida’s Latinos are "arguably the most important set of voters in the United States."
In just the first quarter, more than 252,000 U.S. residents applied to become naturalized citizens, a 28 percent increase from the same period a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Besides the 41 percent increase in Florida, gains were registered in swing states: about 6,000 applications in Pennsylvania, 3,000 in Nevada, 4,000 in North Carolina and 3,000 in Colorado. There are 8.8 million permanent residents living in the U.S. eligible for citizenship, of whom 2.7 million are from Mexico, according to government estimates.
Latinos, who make up most immigrants in Florida, have shifted to majority Democrat, according to the Pew Research Center, meaning that the new Americans could provide a boost to Clinton.
Trump has antagonized immigrants from the outset of his campaign by calling undocumented Mexicans rapists, proposing a ban on Muslims entering the country and pledging mass deportations.
Without Florida’s 29 electoral-college votes -- the winner needs 270 -- Trump has little chance of beating Clinton, says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. The rise in naturalization requests could make that more difficult.
New American voters could affect “Florida for sure,” Zelizer said. “I would say other states like Colorado or Pennsylvania could see this as a factor” as well.
It can’t be taken for granted that all Latino immigrants will vote against Trump, said Elisa M. Sequeira, director of national civic-engagement programs for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, a group that promotes political participation. In Florida, for instance, Cuban Americans have traditionally voted Republican.
"The Latino community is so diverse that we can’t definitively say that they’re going to vote for one candidate or the other," she said. "The Cuban community is very much a staple of South Florida politics."
What’s more, Latinos have had a relatively low turnout in past elections. And with the average naturalization application requiring six months to be approved, people who are only now getting around to it may not get it in time for the election.
Lorella Praeli, Clinton’s national Latino vote director, said the campaign is setting the groundwork in Florida to get immigrant voters to the polls in November. "Latinos are an integral and key part of Hillary Clinton’s winning coalition," said Praeli, an immigrant from Peru who herself received her citizenship in December.
The press office of Trump’s campaign in Florida didn’t respond to questions. The campaign’s national spokeswoman Hope Hicks didn’t reply to an e-mail seeking comment.
The most recent Florida poll by Suffolk University put Clinton ahead of Trump 48 percent to 42 percent. The survey of 500 likely voters took place Aug. 1 to Aug 3 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Vasquez, who says she emigrated from the Dominican Republic legally and took her citizenship oath in July, is certain she’ll be voting for Clinton on November 8th. She and her husband avoided government fees thanks to advice they received at the Mexican consulate’s citizenship "clinic" in March. As with other clinics hosted by Mexican consulates, legal counsel at the Orlando event was provided by a community organization and not by diplomats, which Mexico says shows it isn’t interfering in the country’s election.
The purpose of the workshops was to help empower immigrants, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu said in an interview. "We don’t promote voting or specifically participating in this election," she said.
The community group in Orlando, Mi Familia Vota, moved into bigger offices to handle the flood of citizenship requests, said Soraya Marquez, who runs the Florida chapter. Marquez said that the consulate’s clinics attracted plenty of non-Mexicans, including Colombians, Venezuelans, Cubans and Dominicans.
"Donald Trump is the best Hispanic political organizer in the country," said Amandi, the consultant. "He’s managed to organize everyone against him."