Maria Guadalupe Velazco de Briceño stood in an audience filled with hundreds of immigrants at the Fresno Convention Center on Tuesday, holding up her right hand, pledging allegiance to her new country, the United States.
Originally from Mexico, the 68-year-old said one of the top reasons she pursued U.S. citizenship is gaining the ability to vote. “Let’s see if the vote counts,” Velazco de Briceño, who lives in Fresno, said in Spanish, of the 2020 elections.
Velazco de Briceño wasn’t alone in expressing that view. Others at Tuesday’s ceremony said they don’t want to sit on the sidelines for the next presidential election.
Armando Trujillo, 54, who lives in Tulare and is originally from Mexico, said he’s been in the U.S. since 1984, but just now decided to become a citizen because of President Donald Trump’s leadership, and being able to vote.
“We hope there will be change in the next elections,” he said in Spanish.
A total of 698 people from 54 countries became naturalized Tuesday at the event, traveling from many parts of the Valley.
Tuesday’s event follows a study released last month which stated Fresno’s metro area was ranked among the top three large cities across the country with the lowest rate of people applying to become U.S. citizens.
Boundless, a Seattle-based tech immigration entity, in the study said Fresno earned that position based on 2017 data showing 54,000 immigrants in Fresno were eligible to become naturalized that year, but only 2,631 applied to become citizens.
Lynn Quan Feldman, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fresno field office director, did not speak directly to the study, but said in general terms her office recognized a need for more outreach to immigrants.
At least two years ago, Feldman said the field office in Fresno hired Jesse Castro as the community relations officer.
Castro cooperates with the Mexican Consulate in Fresno, for example. He attends various events and visits small communities to “really share information and educate people about the process and what to expect,” Feldman said.
“There is a targeted effort to get information” to the public about becoming naturalized citizens, she said.
Now they can vote
Marnelli Alegre, 36, and Michael Alegre, 36, who are married and are originally from the Philippines, said they had waited for Tuesday to arrive for 15 years.
The Bakersfield couple registered to vote immediately after the ceremony.
Michael Alegre said he’s concerned with Trump’s stance on immigration and hopes his vote in 2020 could help change that.
“I’m not that happy with everything that’s going on,” he said. “I think it could be better.”
California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla, guest speaker at Tuesday’s event, said investing in outreach can help increase the rate of eligible people taking the steps to become citizens.
He added that conversations about civic responsibility leading up to the 2020 elections and the 2020 U.S. Census will hopefully encourage more immigrants to began the process to become naturalized.
“I think we are living in a time — in a political time that is not very friendly to immigrants,” he said. “As much as possible, I encourage people to take that as a motivation to become a citizen — not a reason to be discouraged to becoming a citizen.”
Padilla, whose parents came to the U.S. from Mexico, said it took 30 years for his parents to become naturalized citizens.
Padilla’s office this week said a record number of over 20 million Californians are now registered to vote.