Applications for U.S. citizenship soared in the first three months of the year compared with 2015, appearing to confirm the predictions of several Democratic-leaning groups that the numbers would climb in response to the presidential campaign of Republican Donald Trump.
If the trends continue, activists now expect there to be nearly 1 million new citizens this year — roughly 200,000 more than the average in most years. That uptick would be just the latest signal of how Trump's campaign has fundamentally reshaped the American electorate.
Figures released this week by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show 249,730 new citizenship applications were submitted from January to March, a 28 percent jump from last year and a 34 percent increase from last quarter.
Historically, citizenship applications usually climb at the start of a presidential campaign cycle. Compared with the same three-month period in 2012, applications jumped by at least 6 percent.
The official quarterly statistics do not break down applicants by ethnicity, race or gender. But the release comes just days after several immigrants rights and voter registration organizations predicted the figures would grow, citing an increased turnout at citizenship workshops and calls to hotlines or congressional offices for more information.
Many would-be applicants have told activists that they are primarily motivated to become citizens because of Trump, who has proposed deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants and building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Applying for citizenship doesn't guarantee acceptance — 19,564 applications were denied by USCIS during the quarter, with 442,219 still pending review, the agency said. Also, just because people apply to be U.S. citizens doesn't mean they'll automatically register to vote and show up to do so in November, something activists acknowledged on Friday.
"Our next step is to continue registering every eligible Latino to vote," Ben Monterroso, executive director of the Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, said in a statement touting the official statistics. "The Latino community will speak loud and clearly come November, we will help elect candidates who are willing to work and fight for the issues that affect our families, communities, and our country."
Cristóbal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Foundation, said that citizenship "is the first step toward the voting booth, and seeing those naturalization application figures jump means that we will see a higher Latino voter turnout."
Mi Familia Vota and the Latino Victory Foundation are two of dozens of organizations — including the Obama administration and both political parties — that are promoting citizenship or voter registration during the presidential campaign year.
Univision, the nation’s dominant Spanish-language broadcaster, has drawn more than 100,000 people to hundreds of voter registration and citizenship drives aimed at urging Latinos to vote. The network is hoping to register 3 million new Latino voters this year as part of a company-wide effort to boost its political influence.
Across the country, several states are reporting higher voter registration numbers. In California, the number of Hispanics registering to vote doubled in the first three months of the year compared with the same period in 2012, according to state data. In Texas, naturalization ceremonies have swelled while most of those becoming citizens are also registering to vote at higher rates.
Meanwhile, Trump's campaign has done little to assuage the concerns of the nation's Hispanic voters. Trump sent a video greeting to an annual conference of Hispanic evangelical pastors last weekend in California — seen as one of his first attempts to reach out to any large group of Latinos. But this week he also strongly attacked one of the country's most prominent Latina political figures, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, telling rally-goers in Albuquerque that "she's got to do a better job."
The attack was considered far out of bounds by many GOP leaders, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). Not only is Martinez head of the Republican Governors Association and the only Latina governor, but many party leaders once touted her as a potential presidential or vice-presidential candidate.
One of Trump's top campaign aides, Paul Manafort, said in an interview this week that the candidate was unlikely to pick a woman or a member of a minority to serve as his running mate, because “that would be viewed as pandering, I think.”
For his part, Trump batted away concerns about his outreach to Hispanic voters. In an interview this week with Mario Lopez of the entertainment news show "Extra," Trump said: "I know all about your heritage and respect it greatly. My relationship with Hispanics is fantastic."
Polls suggest otherwise: 81 percent of Hispanics have an unfavorable view of Trump, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.