Kimberly Gasca hasn’t made up her mind about whether to vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, but she knows one thing for sure: She’s voting against Donald Trump.
Gasca, 18, is a senior at El Diamante High School in Visalia. She was born in the United States, but her family is from Mexico. She worries some family members who are undocumented could be deported if Trump becomes president.
“He is saying things that make all of us Latinos and Hispanics look bad,” she said. “I know he is a great businessman and all, but he seems to know nothing about the people who live in the country he wants to run.”
Gasca isn’t the only one. Experts here and around the country say the chance of Trump becoming president has led to a swell in citizenship applications and voter registration among Latinos motivated by his inflammatory comments toward Mexicans and threats to deport immigrants in the country illegally.
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The Republican nominee plans to stop Friday in Fresno, where nearly half the population is Latino – the vast majority of Mexican descent.
Trump has sparked outrage since last June, when he labeled Mexican immigrants as rapists, drug dealers and killers. At the same time, average monthly citizenship applications in Fresno increased by 18 percent between October and April compared to the same period in 2014-15. In total, more more than 9,000 Fresno immigrants became citizens last year, up by almost a quarter from 2014.
Nationwide, the number applications for citizenship in the four months starting last October is up 5 percent from the same period before the 2012 elections. But a Pew Research Center analysis of naturalization data shows there have been much larger percentage increases in past years, with jumps not always coming during election years.
Advocates say some of those new citizens, as well as others who were already citizens but had never voted, registered in greater numbers by Monday’s deadline for the primary election. Many more are expected to register before the general election in November.
Voter registration numbers so far appear to back that thought. According to Political Data Inc., nearly 42,000 voters registered in Fresno County between Jan. 1 and Tuesday – double the number from Jan. 1 to the primary deadline in 2012. The number of newly registered Democrats and Republicans almost tripled, and the number of Latino voters doubled.
This is the biggest raw number of voter registrations we’ve had of any primary in the history of the state.
Paul Mitchell, Political Data Inc.
Statewide figures are similar, except that while Democrats more than tripled, Republicans and unaffiliated voters increased by around 75 percent. Almost 1.5 million people total are registered.
“This is outlandish,” said Political Data vice president Paul Mitchell. “This is the biggest raw number of voter registrations we’ve had of any primary in the history of the state.”
Mitchell said it’s also the largest percentage of new registrations since the 1980 primary with Ronald Reagan. But just because people register doesn’t mean they’ll vote.
“There’s lots of enthusiasm,” he said. “We’ll see if this turns into voters.”
Not all Latinos are opposed to Trump. Hanford business owner Hubert Rios told The Bee last September that he plans to vote for Trump. Rios likes that Trump is also a business owner and supports his stance on immigration.
“I want illegal immigration to stop,” said Rios, whose father immigrated to the U.S. legally and whose family’s U.S. roots go back more than 100 years on his mother’s side. “It hurts our economy. Build (the border wall) as tall as you can.”
Still, Rios is in the minority among local Latinos. A CBS News poll in April found 82 percent of Latino registered voters viewed Trump unfavorably.
Emilia Flores, 27, is excited for her first election. She was a legal resident since 2008 but finally applied for citizenship in November so she could vote. She got approved April 19.
Flores, who lives in Livingston in Merced County but is originally from Mexico, said she’s concerned that some family members will be deported.
“I want to have a voice,” she said. “It motivated me to vote.”
Like Gasca, Flores hasn’t decided whether to vote for Sanders or Clinton. She convinced her husband, who is also of Mexican descent, and his parents to vote. “I told them, ‘You guys need to vote.’ We don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
Flores and Gasca are volunteers for Mi Familia Vota (My Family Votes), a national Latino voter mobilization group. The organization’s website flashes statements telling people to become U.S. citizens and register to vote. Other groups, including Univision, are also pushing Latinos to register to vote.
Others say it’s premature to credit the increase in voter registration to Trump. According to a January Pew Research Center report, the 3.2 million Latinos who turned 18 between 2012 and Election Day are the biggest driver of growth among Latino eligible voters. That’s nearly half of all eligible Latino voters, and it reflects how young the U.S.-born Latino population is.
Latinos historically have the lowest voter turnout of any racial or ethnic group. They lag behind others, partly because so many are young voters who don’t show up to the polls.
Samuel Molina, California director for Mi Familia Vota who is based in Fresno, said he has registered 3,000 people to vote in Fresno County alone since January, more than half of whom are Latino and ages 18-24. Last year, the group registered only 1,500 Fresno voters.
Molina said Trump is mentioned in almost every high school he visits. Most students list immigration, followed by jobs and college tuition as their main concerns.
“Our youth are paying attention,” he said. “They’re scared for their families, the people who are going to be affected by immigration policy and what Trump has proposed.”
Organizations including United Farm Workers Foundation, Education and Leadership Foundation, Centro la Familia, the Consulate of Mexico and Central California Legal Services have taken part in naturalization assistance workshops. Attorneys and other legal-aid workers say they are overwhelmed by the surge of people seeking citizenship in the past few months.
Jesus Martinez, who coordinates the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative, said many people are also seeking citizenship so they can petition for family members to become legal residents if Trump is elected.
Nobody wants to be an outsider.
Olga Grosh, immigration attorney
Olga Grosh, an attorney with Pasifika Immigration Law Group, has volunteered her service at many naturalization assistance workshops over the past two years. Grosh said that while she doesn’t ask people why they are applying for citizenship, she has recently seen many longtime legal residents applying for citizenship.
One reason many don’t seek citizenship, Grosh said, is because the filing fee with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is $680. But she said this election has many people worried in the Valley.
“Not just those with unlawful status but also those with lawful status because of the perception toward immigrants,” she said. “Nobody wants to be an outsider.”
Grosh said it’s important, not just for the right to vote, that immigrants naturalize. “Citizenship is forever,” she said. “Residency can be taken away.”
May is crunch time for those seeking citizenship so they can vote in November.
The Consulate of Mexico in Fresno, at 7435 N. Ingram Ave., hosts citizenship workshops every Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.
Spanish speakers can visit ValleCentral.org for information about immigration services offered through the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative.