The White House on Thursday announced a campaign to encourage millions of legal immigrants residing in the U.S. to become American citizens. The tone and timing of the administration's push to encourage nautralization of the nearly nine million permanent resident immigrants in the U.S. is in stark contrast to the rhetoric coming from the GOP during the nomination battle that has centered largely on narrowing who is eligible for American citizenship by, for example, ending the practice of “birthright citizenship” for individuals born on American soil.
Beyond the initiative’s policy implications, there are potential political ramifications because, as the New York Times notes, it “could add millions of voters to the electorate in time for the presidential election next year.” Two ethnic groups that have turned out for Obama make up the bulk of potential new citizens: Latinos are 60 percent of the permanent residents eligible for naturalization and Asians 20 percent. It takes on average six months to complete the naturalization process after the application forms are submitted.
“The campaign was conceived by a task force created by Obama last November, all part of a package of presidential executive actions on immigration that included expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants young immigrants work permits and reprieve from deportation,” according to the Associated Press. Along with an awareness campaign, the White House also wants to simplify the process of naturalization. “The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency in charge of naturalizations, will offer practice tests on cellphones for the civics exam that immigrants must pass, but which many find daunting, and will hold preparatory workshops in rural areas,” according to the Times. “Applicants will also be able to pay the fee, still a hefty $680, with a credit card.”