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Trump Immigration Rhetoric May Be Driving Surge In Citizenship Applications

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- Donald Trump likes to say his campaign is attracting new voters, but some of them might not be the new voters he's thinking about.  In fact, some of them are not even citizens yet.

One example would be Oscar Martinez who is now studying what he likes to call "a beautiful story."

"It's a pretty beautiful story, you know.  Every president changes something in the United States" said Martinez, who has been a permanent resident for five years.  The native of Guatemala is about to take his citizenship test, which means learning about American history, the three branches of government, and the process by which voters choose the president.  Martinez says there is one major reason why he's trying to achieve citizenship now.

"Every single day I see the news [about the] coming election, and my dream [is that] this year, I'll vote," says Martinez, who hopes to complete his citizenship process by the end of this month.

Across the Bay Area, many of the groups that offer citizenship classes are non-profits, which means they must remain non political.  However, many class instructors told KPIX 5 that their classrooms have been filling up, as presidential politics drives more immigrants to gain citizenship in time for the November vote.  There are also reports of packed citizenship classes in major cities like New York and Los Angeles.

"The minimum number of years is five, but we're also seeing people who have had their green card for 10, 20, 30 years," observed Justin Skinner, an attorney with the International Institute of the Bay Area, which a non-profit which provides low-cost legal immigration services.

He said general election years usually see a surge in citizenship applications, and 2016's immigration rhetoric could very well be adding to that trend.

There won't be any hard numbers on just how many residents make the jump to citizenship and register to vote until closer to the election.  Perhaps more importantly, there's no way to predict if - or how - those voters might affect the election itself.

As for Oscar Martinez, he said the 40 or so people in his citizenship class are eager to get involved, declaring "my vote is very important for this country, too."


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