Immigration advocates to convert US green card holders to voters

A coalition of pro-immigrant groups have joined forces to launch the 'New American Democracy Campaign' with the aim of persuading two million US green card holders to become US citizens who can vote come Election Day, which is scheduled for November 8, 2016. However, the deadline for registering to vote is October 11.

Outraged by rhetoric spouted by Republican Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump and other Republicans pursuing the presidency, pro-immigrant advocates acknowledge that their goal is 'daunting', but have pressed ahead with a digital advertising campaign to raise awareness of their plans.

The campaign has enlisted the help of immigration experts who are offering free legal advice and low-interest loans to assist with the $680 citizenship application fee that needs to be paid by each individual.

Tough task to quickly gain citizenship for millions of US green card holders

Getting two million legal permanent residents through the citizenship process prior to the US Election is a tough task. Immigration expert Michael Olivas at the University of Houston Law Center said: "It's not like getting someone to sign a petition in a grocery store."

Mr Olivas added: "I'd be amazed, especially so late in the day, if pro-immigrant advocates can make this happen. It's not unusual for citizenship applications to take 12 months to process, even with perfect paperwork."

Goal should be for immigrants to become citizens by 2018 election

Mr Olivas believes pro-immigrant advocates should look to achieve their goal in time for the US Election in 2018. He said: "This is a project that ought to be for the long haul." However, immigrant advocates have targeted November 8 to reach their goal.

The New American Democracy Campaign is providing computers across 90 workshops in six US states – including Texas - to help legal permanent residents complete citizenship forms. The group says that the primary purpose of their campaign is to get Latinos to the polls.

According to Department of Homeland Security figures from 2012, Texas alone is home to 430,000 Latino legal permanent residents. In addition to Texas, the campaign is targeting Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida and Nevada. Combined, these states are home to approximately 1.6 million legal permanent residents who are eligible for naturalization.

Opposition to Trump and his racist remarks

The drive to see two million US green card holders gain citizenship comes as a result of racist and derogatory comments made by Donald Trump about Mexicans. In recent weeks the billionaire real estate tycoon has labelled Mexican nationals 'rapists who bring drugs and crime to the US.'

Felipe Benitez, a spokesperson for 'Mi Familia Vota' – which promotes Hispanic civic engagement – said that Trump is not alone in spouting 'contradictory immigration rhetoric.' Benitez was referring to revelations concerning Trump's business ventures in Muslim countries and his family line.

Benitez also accused US Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio of taking a 'contradictory stance on immigration.' Mr Benitez said: "Basically two sons of immigrants and refugees in in a recent debate were arguing who could deport more and faster."

US citizenship eligibility

To be eligible for US citizenship, green card holders must have lived in the country for five years; while immigrant spouses of US citizens can apply after three years. According to Angela Morrison, an immigration law expert at Texas A&M University School of Law, citizenship applications can take up to seven months to process at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field office in Dallas.

As part of a citizenship application, green card holders are required to provide five years' worth of addresses, successfully complete a language test, undergo a citizenship exam and provide proof of 'good moral character.' Morrison said: "The citizenship application asks unbelievable questions like 'are you a terrorist?'"

Loans to help pay the Citizenship application fees

It costs $680 to apply for citizenship. The New American Democracy Campaign is encouraging green card holders to apply for 12-month micro-loans. The loans have interest rates ranging between 9 and 18 per cent and are available from various credit unions.

Maria Ponce of the Service Employees International Union, which is part of the New American Democracy Campaign, said that the credit unions involved are 'excellent examples of organizations with a mission-driven purpose, providing products to help their members.'

Pro-immigrant advocates say that provided green card holders can come up with the money, file an application, become citizens and register to vote, they could have a significant say come Election Day.

Previous Latino voters

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2012 71 per cent of Latino voters cast ballots for current US President, Barack Obama, while just 27 per cent opted for Mitt Romney. Sylvia Manzano, principal at Latino Decisions – a political opinion research firm – said: "New Latino voters are an important group, and the citizenship effort could engage them.

"Parties and candidates are never going to invest in this segment because they're instead focused on registered voters who've participated in past elections," she added.