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Immigrants Rushing to Become US Citizens, Earn Right to Vote, Have Their Voices Heard on Immigration

First Posted: Apr 20, 2016 04:33 PM EDT

Immigrants all over the country find themselves in the same place.

Data shows a growing movement among the 8.8 million immigrants eligible to become naturalized citizens aimed at assuring that they have met all the requirements mandated to participate in the upcoming 2016 presidential election.

With the chasm between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of what should be done about immigration as wide as its ever been, the stakes are increasingly high for the entire Latino community, which could see as many as 11 million immigrants deported if Republican front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are able to accomplish their stated desires.

Part of Plan Aimed at Defending President Obama's Immigration Programs

"There are concerted efforts to mobilize people to naturalize and register to vote with the intention of fighting back against the hate expressed by candidates at the natural level as well as to defend President Obama's actions on DAPA," said Breandan Magee, senior director of programs for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), told Latin Post.

He later added, "The general mood among immigrant populous is they feel the need to stand up for themselves and their families against what they see as blatant racism. They waited a long time to become citizens, but they felt a great need to do so now."

Elena and Esteban Salgado stand as prime examples of that way of thinking. The couple has been living in America for more three decades and has owned their own green cards for more than 20 years. Still, they've never voted, and up until now have never really seriously considered it.

That's all changed with the battle over immigration simmering as it has this election season.

"We want to become citizens so we can vote against Trump," said 57-year-old Esteban.

They're not alone.

ICIRR organizers see a serious uptick among the estimated 350,000 immigrants living in Illinois that feel the same way the Salgados do.

"He's racist, and he speaks very badly about Mexicans," added Elena. "It shouldn't be like this."

Indeed, the outspoken Trump formally launched his campaign by deriding Mexicans as criminals and drug dealers. Since then, he has also vowed to erect a massive wall along the Mexican border to keep out all immigrants.

Texas Sen. Cruz has echoed many of Trump's sentiments, insisting that he too would quickly move to mass deport millions of immigrants.

Immigrants everywhere have taken note of all the fiery rhetoric, particularly across Illinois where Chicago-based ICIRR has helped nearly 1,000 permanent residents seek to become citizens for the express purpose of being able to vote in November's general election.

In addition, unions and advocacy groups alike are revving up their outreach to immigrants as the issue of immigration becomes more pronounced.

All Eyes on Supreme Court Immigration Ruling

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments on the merits of President Barack Obama's immigration programs, some of which could aid as many as four million now people living in the U.S. illegally in becoming legal citizens.

"Having presidential candidates using a platform of hate toward specifically Mexicans--- we do realize we have a lot of folks who need to be put on that path toward citizenship," said Idalia Cervantes, a program manager for Chicago's branch of Juntos Podemos, which advocates for Mexicans living in the U.S.

"It's the same group of people we'll be using in the 2016 elections to push them to get out and vote.

Meanwhile, a native of Ireland set to vote in his first election, Magee only became a naturalized citizen earlier this year.

"If we're creating these workshops and promoting citizenship we have to lead by example," he said. "It's something I owe to my community and I definitely feel an urge to participate in the process."

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