Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is spurring a record number of citizenship applications and increases in voter registration among Latinos upset by the candidate’s rhetoric and fearful of his plans to crack down on immigration.
Activists, lawmakers and political consultants around the country say Hispanics are flooding into citizenship workshops and congressional offices and jamming hotlines on how to become U.S. citizens or register to vote. Many say they are primarily motivated by the rise of Trump, who has proposed deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants and building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
In California, the number of Hispanics registering to vote doubled in the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2012, according to state data. In Texas, naturalization ceremonies in Houston have swelled to about 2,200 per month, compared with 1,200 before, according to an analysis by the Houston Chronicle. More than 80 percent of those naturalized then register to vote, compared with 60 percent previously.
According to the most recent national statistics, more than 185,000 citizenship applications were submitted in the final three months of 2015, up 14 percent from the year before and up 8 percent compared with the same period ahead of the 2012 elections.
Experts expect a similar, if not larger, uptick for the first three months of 2016 when new federal data is released in coming weeks.
“A surge in Latino engagement is coming,” said Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, a nonpartisan group registering Hispanics in six states. “Unsolicited, people tell you that ‘I’m becoming a citizen because I want to vote against Donald Trump’ or ‘I want to vote against the attacks on our community.’ ”
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), an outspoken advocate of immigration reform, said he’s seeing similar interest in his Chicago district, where his office helped more than 500 people apply for citizenship this spring — a record.
“I’ve done citizenship fairs throughout my career, and there’s something new going on,” he said Wednesday.
The increased activity comes as Trump has continued to anger immigrant and refugee rights activists with his words and campaign pledges. On Wednesday, he told Fox News that he might establish a commission to explore his call for a temporary travel ban on Muslims. Last week, Trump tweeted a photo of himself with a taco salad and the words “I love Hispanics!” on Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday commemorating a military victory over French forces in the 1862 Battle of Puebla.
Supporters defend Trump’s travel ban and taco tweet as concern for U.S. security and a sincere overture to Hispanics. But some GOP leaders continue to warn that his candidacy will end any hope of Republicans winning over minorities.
“Eating a taco is probably not going to fix the problem we have with Hispanics,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told CNN last week in response to the tweet. “Embracing Donald Trump is embracing demographic death.”
The work by Monterroso’s nonpartisan group and Gutiérrez is part of the “Stand Up to Hate” coalition that said Wednesday that it helped 12,781 people apply for citizenship in several states in March and April. That is part of broader efforts by several groups, including the Democratic Party and Spanish-language broadcaster Univision, to help millions of people apply for citizenship or register to vote this year.
The coalition involved in Wednesday’s announcement includes the Service Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the Latino Victory Foundation. Collectively, they held more than 300 events in March and April nationwide.
Astrid Silva, organizing director with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said she had more than 500 people turn out for a citizenship workshop in Las Vegas last month. Most in the crowd were older people who have lived in the United States legally for decades but never became citizens.
“I met a man who’d been a resident for 45 years, and he said in Spanish: ‘I hadn’t wanted to do this. I didn’t see a purpose.’ But he added, ‘This year, I’m going to do it because I’m tired of sitting down,’ ” she said.
The rate of citizenship applications and voter registrations historically swells in the months leading up to a presidential election as state deadlines draw near. But this year’s increased activity comes as demographers anticipate that this will be the most racially and ethnically diverse election in U.S. history. Nearly a third of eligible voters will be racial minorities, due mostly to growth among Hispanics, according to the Pew Research Center.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), who represents the San Antonio area, said a citizenship workshop in his district drew more legal permanent residents concerned by Trump’s calls to deport undocumented immigrants.
“Their concern is not unfounded,” Castro said. “Is he going to stop with people who are undocumented? He seems like a quick step away from saying if you’re not a citizen, we don’t want permanent residents either.”
Increases are also happening in battleground states with smaller but growing blocs of Hispanic voters that Democrats hope can help them win local, statewide and congressional races.
In Iowa, labor leaders believe that five times as many Hispanics voted in presidential caucuses this year as voted in 2008. In Georgia and North Carolina, the jump in voter registration among Latinos was larger than the increase among whites or blacks.
Albert Morales, a former Democratic National Committee operative who handled Hispanic issues, called the latest trends “a very positive development.” But he warned that Democrats and like-minded groups need to spend millions more to register and mobilize Hispanics voters if they want to win more congressional races.
Monterroso, 58, emigrated from Guatemala in 1977 and has devoted his career to helping Hispanics apply to become citizens and register to vote. He said that the GOP’s embrace of Trump is “scary,” but that the increase in Latino registrations “is music to my ears.”
He cited the story of Yanely Gonzalez, 17, a high school senior from Denver whose parents came illegally from Mexico. She will be old enough to vote in November and is helping Mi Familia Vota register others in Colorado. Last week, she introduced President Obama at a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House.
“I believe in the power of my vote, because it’s equal to any other person’s,” she told the crowd in the White House East Room. “My vote counts as much as anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter where my parents were born or the color of their skin.”
Philip Bump and Alice Crites contributed to this report.