Demand for help to apply for U.S. citizenship has increased in recent weeks across South Florida, according to activists and organizations that serve immigrants.
Hundreds of people have attended citizenship workshops and some said they are taking the step because they are worried about their future in a country now under new immigration measures touted by President Donald Trump.
In Lauderhill, some 200 people were expected to attend a naturalization workshop on Saturday hosted by several organizations. But twice as many showed up.
“I’ve been here for over 30 years, and I’ve never thought about going through this process,” said Yves Darbouze, who applied for citizenship. “Now they’re sending people home. I have family here. I have my kids, who were born here. Even though I’m a permanent resident, I’m afraid that they might send me back. That’s why I’m here. I don’t want to be separated from my family.”
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Even though I’m a permanent resident, I’m afraid that they might send me back.
Yves Darbouze, U.S. citizen applicant
Darbouze was referring to Trump’s executive order, issued last month, that called for a ban on U.S. entry for travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. Even though the travel ban has been suspended by the courts, legal residents like Darbouze say they fear similar measures in the future could affect other nationalities.
The Trump administration has said it would challenge the court ruling.
To accommodate the increased request for help with citizenship applications, various groups have begun to organize more workshops. But the demand has gotten so high that some organizations have had to start scheduling appointments.
“We held our workshops on the first Saturday of each month and before there were 15, maximum 20 people attending. Now we have 50 and 60. We need more volunteers,” said Rodolfo Rodríguez, coordinator of the Center for Immigrant Advancement (CIMA). “Almost everyone says the same thing to us, that they are very afraid, that they want to become citizens so that they’re not deportable. They want to vote.”
A person with permanent resident status can be deported from the United States if he/she is convicted of a crime or felony. Permanent residency also can be jeopardized if the individual moves to another country indefinitely or if tax returns are not filed properly.
The next CIMA workshop is on March 4 at the Kendale Lakes Public Library, 15205 SW 88 St. For more information and to reserve an appointment, call 305-416-7902.
In addition to help with the application, organizations offer free classes to prepare for the citizenship test. The demand for that service has also increased.
“We started announcing the classes and in two weeks we already have 40 students, and 40 more on the waiting list,” said Carlos Pereira, of the Libre Initiative. “The goal is for applicants to be prepared to pass the exam on the first try because it must be very frustrating to file the application, pay, and then fail.”
Citizenship classes for the Libre Initiative are Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 7311 NW 36 St. in Miami. For more information call 305-432-0222 or 786-385-4628.
Recent reports from the Bureau of Immigration Statistics, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, indicate that there are about 13.1 million legal permanent residents in the country and that 8.8 million of them are eligible to apply for citizenship. That national figure of 8.8 million has remained stable for years, according to reports on immigration statistics.
In 2006, there were 12.1 million permanent residents and 8.2 million could apply for citizenship. In 2005, 8.1 million could apply for citizenship from a total of 1.8 million permanent residents.
8.1 million permanent residents are eligible to apply for citizenship
Every year, an average of 700,000 to 800,000 residents become naturalized.
“These kinds of events are a powerful tool for families,” said Iván Parra of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “Even people who have been here for decades are looking for ways to become citizens because they know it gives them a more powerful voice in their communities, and it opens the door to new job opportunities.”
Follow Brenda Medina on Twitter: @BrendaMedinar