Sergio Bustos, AP, May 3, 2016
On a recent Saturday morning in South Florida, 50-year-old Edgar Ospina stood in a long line of immigrants to take the first step to become an American.
Ospina has spent almost half his life in the U.S. after emigrating from his native Colombia, becoming eligible for citizenship in 1990. But with Donald Trump becoming a more likely presidential nominee by the day, Ospina decided to wait no more, rushing the paperwork required to become a citizen.
“Trump is dividing us as a country,” said Ospina, owner of a small flooring and kitchen remodeling company. “He’s so negative about immigrants. We’ve got to speak up.”
Nationwide, immigrants like Ospina are among tens of thousands applying for naturalization in a year when immigration has taken center stage in the presidential campaign, especially in the race for the Republican nomination.
“There is fear of a Trump presidency,” said Maria Ponce of iAmerica Action, a Washington-based immigrant rights group that is teaming up with other organizations to help those seeking citizenship–part of a national campaign called “Stand Up To Hate.” They’ve sponsored naturalization workshops from Washington state to Nebraska and Massachusetts.
Nationwide, naturalization applications are up 14 percent in the last six months of 2015 compared with the same period in 2014, according to the government.
And the pool of future U.S. citizens is large. Nearly 9 million legal permanent residents, or green-card holders, are eligible to become Americans. Of those, about 4 million are Hispanic.
Ivan Parra, citizenship coordinator with the Florida Immigrant Coalition said immigrants laugh when he asks why they want to become Americans.
“‘You know why,’ they say, ‘I want to vote against racism and hate,'” said Parra.
He says immigrants this year are “desperate to be part of the political process.”