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Dump Trump: Immigrants rush to seek citizenship, right to vote

Sandra Tovar, DFW Coordinator of Mi Familia Vota pictured on the right, helps newly naturalized citizens register to vote. Tovar, a resident of Fort Worth, said many legal immigrants tell her they want to become U.S. citizens in time for the November presidential election.
Sandra Tovar, DFW Coordinator of Mi Familia Vota pictured on the right, helps newly naturalized citizens register to vote. Tovar, a resident of Fort Worth, said many legal immigrants tell her they want to become U.S. citizens in time for the November presidential election. Special to the Star-Telegram

Ricardo Malagon’s new U.S. citizenship offers stability and protection for his immigrant family.

The bonus? Now he can vote.

Malagon said he has not decided who will get his vote for president in November, but Republican front-runner Donald Trump is not among those he is considering.

“He is not right in the head,” said Malagon, 31, who became a citizen in August as Trump pushed his anti-immigrant platform. “He just wants to deport the immigrants — especially the Mexicans.”

Malagon and others say the political rhetoric about Mexicans motivates those involved in the “Donald Trump wave,” an unprecedented get-out-the-vote effort among immigration advocates.

“We don’t have a country if we don’t have borders,” Trump says on television, in his platform video and during rallies. “We will build a wall. It will be a great wall. It will do what it is supposed to do — keep illegal immigrants out.”

While protesters are common at Trump campaign rallies — including one in downtown Fort Worth last month — other immigration advocates have moved beyond the name-calling and are participating in efforts help legal immigrants gain citizenship, in part so they can vote.

“Trump is a great incentive for Hispanics to become citizens and vote against that type of thinking — anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-American,” said Juan Hernandez, a Fort Worth political consultant and co-founder of the Hispanic Republicans of Texas. “I say that as a Republican.”

This is not controversial. We are not talking about undocumented immigrants. The people who are attending these clinics are people who did it the right way.

Rebecca Acuna, executive director of the Latino Center for Leadership Development in Dallas

A February citizenship workshop at the Mexican Consulate in Dallas drew more than 300 people, prompting officials to conduct another in March.

“This is not controversial. We are not talking about undocumented immigrants,” said Rebecca Acuna, executive director of the Latino Center for Leadership Development in Dallas. “The people who are attending these clinics are people who did it the right way.”

Trump’s campaign did not return requests for comment.

Because the voter registration deadline for the presidential election is Oct. 1, legal immigrants seeking citizenship are up against a clock. It typically takes about six months for the citizenship paperwork to be processed, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Outside the Fort Worth Convention Center on Friday, a supporter of Donald Trump tries to engage a young protester angry about the candidate's rhetoric on Hispanics.

Last year, between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, the Dallas field office received 5,304 naturalization applications, an increase of 16.5 percent from the same period in 2014, when the number of applicants was 4,553.

“People are paying close attention to what the candidates are saying,” said Sandra Tovar of Fort Worth, DFW coordinator for Mi Familia Vota, a group that is helping Hispanics register to vote.

Nationwide, 27.3 million Hispanics are eligible to vote this year, according to the Pew Research Center. Of those, 1.2 million became citizens between 2012 and 2016.

‘Feelings are hurt’

While immigration reform has long been a big issue among Hispanics, state Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, said Trump’s popularity has served as a wake-up call that they need to vote.

In the past, many resident immigrants from Mexico — legal immigrants with green cards — trusted the U.S. government and felt valued, so they didn’t rush in to apply for citizenship.

But now they see co-workers and neighbors supporting Trump and are fearful of what could happen if he becomes president.

“The immigrant community’s feelings are hurt,” Romero said, adding that many believe that citizenship will bring added protection for their families.

Hernandez said the Mexican consulates are encouraging immigrants who are U.S. citizens to practice their rights and vote.

Mexican leaders including former President Vicente Fox have also criticized Trump’s plans via social media. Earlier this month, President Enrique Peña Nieto likened Trump to Hitler and Mussolini.

Many immigrants are also displeased that lawmakers — including President Barack Obama — have not passed laws that address immigration reform, Hernandez said.

The second-largest source of Hispanic voter growth is among adult Hispanic immigrants who are in this country legally and become U.S. citizens by naturalization, according to the Pew Research Center.

He said they are angry about a high number of deportations and the handling of Central American children who arrived here unaccompanied. In 2014, thousands of families and unaccompanied children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador arrived at the nation’s southern border. Central Americans cited high levels of crime as why they fled their homelands.

And, Hernandez said, many are worried about the future of Obama's immigration executive order, which goes before the U.S. Supreme Court next month.

Obama’s order expanded a program that allows young people who were raised in the United States without status to live and work here temporarily. That program is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Another program provides temporary protection for an estimated 4.1 million undocumented parents of U.S.-born children or legal immigrants.

“We are disappointed with the president because he didn’t promote any of his promises to Hispanics,” Hernandez said.

‘Full of shock and fear’

Proyecto Inmigrante ICS, a immigration counseling service with offices in Fort Worth and Wichita Falls, has citizenship programs year round to help immigrants fill out their paperwork at low cost.

In Fort Worth, a citizenship clinic that typically draws about 50 people drew about 100 on March 12, immigration counselor Andy Beltran said.

“It was a surprise by 10 a.m., we already had 100,” Beltran said.

What I hear is: ‘What if he gets elected? What is going to happen to us?

Anael Luébanos, president of the

Beltran said many people told her they want to vote in this election because “we don’t want the person who is talking about immigrants a lot to be president of the United States.”

Beltran said they are referring to Trump.

Hernandez said immigrants are alarmed by Trump’s platform.

“We are full of fear and shock of what would become,” Hernandez said.

Trump has said he is in favor of legal immigration and has promised to have a big door in his wall for legal immigrants.

“People are going to come into this country legally,” Trump has said.

Paola Garza, 24, of Dallas, who is voting for president for the first time this year, said immigration reform is more complex than Trump is making it out to be.

“Truth is, there needs to be a reform in our immigration process and a more comprehensive approach,” she said.

WARNING: Graphic language. Donald Trump protesters and supporters argued before, during and after Friday's rally in Fort Worth. At one point, police divided the crowd with their bicycles. (Ryan Osborne/Star-Telegram)

Garza’s family is originally from Monterrey, Mexico. She became a U.S. citizen in April 2013. Her family came to the United States when she was 5 so her father could work in the auto industry in Michigan. She supported Democrat Bernie Sanders in the Texas primary.

Trump is not an option, she said.

“I cannot side with someone who has spoken negatively about immigrants, refugees, the pope, women and minorities,” she said. “I believe this is not what the United States stands for; we are a nation of immigrants and diversity.”

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

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