Immigrant rights groups are joining forces in a way that could eventually change politics in South Florida: They’re helping largely Haitian, Mexican and Central American immigrants become American citizens.
The Florida Immigrant Coalition has joined forces with groups like Homestead-based WeCount! to help people gain their citizenship, which could in turn grow the voter rolls.
“The Latinos, the first thing they say is, ‘I want to vote,’” said Natalia Jaramillo, spokeswoman for the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
There will be a free clinic at WeCount! in Homestead on Saturday to help people along their path to citizenship.
A notice about the clinic went out Tuesday morning on Spanish radio, and WeCount! Executive Director Jonathan Fried said the organization had been fielding calls about the event ever since.
“We’ve kind of been overwhelmed,” he said.
In general, applicants must have had a green card for at least five years before applying for citizenship, although immigrants who are married to a U.S. citizen may apply after three years.
The Florida Immigrant Coalition has hosted clinics in Broward County, Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood and Kendall. Saturday’s clinic is the first in Homestead.
Volunteers and pro-bono lawyers will give guidance in filling out forms and fee waivers, and even send off completed applications.
Fried couldn’t say why so many people seem interested in becoming citizens. Jaramillo said part of the push among Hispanics may have to do with the upcoming presidential elections — though many who start the citizenship process now may not become citizens in time to vote this time around.
Immigrants rights issues have also been garnering national attention, with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding Arizona’s controversial immigration law. President Barack Obama also recently announced that his administration would be giving some young people referred to as “Dreamers” — who were brought into the country illegally as children — a temporary reprieve from deportation.
Adding more immigrants to the voter rolls could have an impact on the area’s political makeup, Jaramillo said. Right now, South Florida is known for having a loyal base of Cuban-American voters, who often cast ballots for Republicans.
About 70 percent of Miami-Dade Hispanics are either of Cuban or South American ancestry, according to the most recent census data available, and 17 percent are Mexican or Central American. In Homestead, 45 percent of Hispanics are Mexican or Central American.
Nationally, Mexicans tend to vote for Democrats.
“We are certainly interested in the immigrant community taking a more active role and exercising the right to vote,” said Fried.
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