In the run up to the 2008 election, while now President Barack Obama was inspiring supporters with cries of "Yes we can," more than 1 million people became naturalized U.S. citizens. That number dipped significantly in 2012, but this year, immigration advocates are trying to register 1 million new voters ahead of the showdown between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump.
And ironically, Trump's very existence may actually be increasing rates of immigration and naturalization. Not only has Trump's campaign lit a fire under many Hispanic activists, but many immigrants fear what could happen if Trump takes the White House.
"When we were coming into the 2008 electoral cycle, immigration was fresh in everyone's minds," John Tuman, head of the political science department at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, told PRI program The World. "I think that was an important factor that was motivating individuals and groups to become naturalized citizens...This time around, they're also talking about perceived bias and discrimination against Latinos as one of the top issues."
In events around the country, unions, activists, and community organizers are throwing events to help thousands of immigrants fill out applications for U.S. citizenship, an extremely complex process. In fact, the process is so complex that many immigrants choose to hire immigration lawyers to assist them.
Here in Virginia, activists and Virginia immigration lawyers have recently seen a wave of arrivals of migrant youths, sometimes called "unaccompanied minors." So far, the state has placed 7,300 minors with adult sponsors and families. Virginia has taken in more of these youths, many of whom are fleeing violence in Latin America, than all but five other states, Maryland, Texas, California, New York, and Florida.
Unfortunately, the Associated Press recently reported that the services these children receive are wildly different across the state. Some school districts have struggled to serve these young people, many of whom have unique educational problems while others have created special programs to better help them.
"Understandably, schools feel this is a huge challenge but I think these kids are incredibly resilient and resourceful and smart and it can be a great opportunity if a school does it right," said Becky Wolozin, a Virginia immigration attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center.