Hispanic activists say that more than 8 million permanent residents have not become U.S. citizens, and so they continue to be unprotected from aggressive policies against immigrants and are losing political influence.
Of the 8.2 million people eligible for citizenship, 44 percent were born in Latin American countries, and in California in particular there are 3.3 million permanent residents of whom 2.3 million can already apply for citizenship
- Lizette Escobedo
"Every person who qualifies to be a permanent resident and does not apply for citizenship should be aware of the damage he's individually causing to the entire immigrant community by not exercising all his rights as a citizen," Juan Jose Gutierrez, an attorney and immigrant rights advocate in Los Angeles, told Efe.
"If all those who can get their citizenship would vote, with that power we could put pressure on the politicians to attend to the most pressing demands of our community such as fair and comprehensive immigration reform," he said.
Lizette Escobedo, National Director for Civic Engagement with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, told Efe that, according to Department of Homeland Security figures, 8.2 million of the 12 million foreign residents are already eligible to apply for citizenship.
"Of the 8.2 million people eligible for citizenship, 44 percent were born in Latin American countries, and in California in particular there are 3.3 million permanent residents of whom 2.3 million can already apply for citizenship," she said.
"Our Latino community has been here for several centuries. Their children were born here, they pay taxes, they work and so they are contributing to the greatness of this country," said Escobedo, who added that the only thing that's lacking is that they are not citizens.
Francisco Rivera, the president of the Mesa Redonda Nacional Centroamericana (National Central American Roundtable), said that "there are many people who don't make the effort, because they don't have the $680 that the citizenship procedure costs and when there are several people in the family the costs are not within the reach of their salaries."
"But it's necessary for low-income families to know that they can fill out a request to be made exempt from paying with Citizenship and Immigration Services and if they can prove that they are in the low-income category they will not pay the $680," he said.
Rivera said that to become better informed for free about the procedure families should attend the citizenship fairs that are organized each year by NALEO.
Antonio Gonzalez, the president of the William Velazquez Institute, told Efe that "with the economic crisis everything went downhill, the rate of naturalization was cut by more than half because people don't have the money to pay for the process, which the government has made more expensive."
"Both the government of George W. Bush and the one of Barack Obama have not allocated funds to get strong campaigns going through organizations so that people apply for citizenship," he said.