Worries of ‘Trump effect’ spur New Bedford immigrants to apply for citizenship in ‘record’ numbers

Worries of ‘Trump effect’ spur New Bedford immigrants to apply for citizenship in ‘record’ numbers

Corrine Freire helps immigrants apply for citizenship during a class at the Immigrants Assistance Center in New Bedford. AUDITI GUHA/ STANDARD-TIMES/SCMG
Corrine Freire helps immigrants apply for citizenship during a class at the Immigrants Assistance Center in New Bedford. AUDITI GUHA/ STANDARD-TIMES/SCMG

Dolores Rivas came to the United States from El Salvador two decades ago. A worker in the local fishing industry, Rivas, like many city immigrants was busy earning a living and making ends meet until what some are calling “the Trump effect.”

On Tuesday, Rivas, 43, was among 14 people filling out long forms at the Immigrants Assistance Center to file for citizenship.

“People are in a panic situation about what’s going to happen to immigration policy (if Donald Trump becomes the next president), so we are seeing a record number of applicants,” said Helena DaSilva Hughes, executive director of the Immigrants’ Assistance Center.

Citizenship applications in New Bedford have doubled from about 150 submitted this time last year to 238 filed so far. Many more are waiting in line to file. This reflects the large number of citizenship statewide applications statewide. According to The Associated Press, 8,000 people applied for citizenship from January to March — a 30 percent increase from the previous quarter.

This story by Auditi Guha first appeared in the Standard Times on 06/10/2016 – HERE

To be eligible, immigrants must be at least 18 and legal permanent residents of the country for at least five years — three years if they are married to a U.S. citizen — and have a clean record.

Earlier this year, there were only three or four people at the citizenship classes on Crapo Street. Now they see 15 to 18, said Janice Vicente who leads the drop-in class at 5:30 p.m. following the ESOL class on Tuesday and Thursday.

“I think we have more people in this class that ever before,” she said. “More people want to file for citizenship because they are worried about what will happen” in November.

Some of the attendees said they were applying because they fear what could happen to immigrants, given that Trump has talked about keeping Mexicans and Muslims out. However, they declined to be quoted for this story.

“Becoming a legal permanent resident is not enough to protect you from immigration law,” Hughes said. “And now people are just afraid. We call it the Trump Effect.”

About 98,000 immigrants live in the New Bedford area. Of those about 8,000-10,000 are estimated to be undocumented but the 14 working on their citizenship applications Tuesday were permanent residents or had valid visas. Some were converting from a spouse visa after being married to an American, some were applying because their permanent residency was expiring or because they had been in the country for five years and were eligible to apply for citizenship.

The complex 20-page form, fingerprinting and test could take six to nine months but the biggest challenge some said they face is learning the English language.

“Some of them speak a little English and some don’t,” said Corrine Freire, 17, a New Bedford High School teen who came from Cabo Verde in 2014 and now helps out at the center. “They don’t have good jobs and they don’t get the benefits and opportunities that citizens do.”
Many agreed that citizenship would make a big difference.

“It’s important for a better life. I want to vote,” said Paula Romao, 27, who came from Angola five years ago. She takes ESOL classes at Bristol Community College and said she wants to teach.

Carlotta Sequeira, 55, came from Cabo Verde in 2000. She has worked in the fishing industry, at a candy factory and is currently working in healthcare. She attends both the ESOL and citizenship classes at the center and said she wants her citizenship so she can travel more easily and vote.

Elizabeth Pereira, 40, came from Brazil with her children five years ago. Married to an American man, she wants to become a citizen to “fulfill my obligations.” She stitches at Joseph Abboud and said she is nervous about the test that quizzes applicants on civics and American history.

“I am excited because I want to vote,” she said. “I think I will pass.”

This story by Auditi Guha first appeared in the Standard Times on 06/10/2016 – HERE

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