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Immigration Policy Reform Comes to the Front of Election 2016

  ·  Julián Lazalde

Immigration has consistently ranked as one of the most important issues to likely voters throughout the 2016 presidential election cycle. Throughout the primaries and into the general election, candidates from the major parties have focused their immigration policies and rhetoric on the estimated 11-12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States; what to do about them and subsequent undocumented immigrants who may arrive in the future.

Unfortunately, the electorate has not received a clear and accurate immigration policy discussion that we need from our candidates. Instead, the topic of immigration and undocumented immigrants has been hijacked by fearmongering, unfounded speculation, demonization, and misinformation. Immigrants from Latin America, especially Mexico, and Syrian refugees have been portrayed as the bad guys. Crimes committed by undocumented immigrants cannot be denied, but candidates routinely paint with only the broadest of brushes regarding immigrants, Latino and otherwise. Therefore, intentionally promoting the narrative that immigrants are only here to rape, rob and kill while willfully ignoring or severely downplaying the demographics trends and vast contributions made to this country by immigrants from around the world.

Demonizing a vulnerable population for political gain is nothing new in democracies around the world, but it does not make it any less onerous in a country with our immigrant tradition. It is a common refrain by many opponents of undocumented immigrants, “my ancestors came here the right way”. However, it has been demonstrated that those who emigrated to the U.S. “the right way” one or two generations ago would likely be considered undocumented immigrants today. To paraphrase: history, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.

This presidential election cycle has been volatile and unpredictable in many ways. However, one consistent trend during recent presidential election cycles is an increase in the number of applications processed for citizenship naturalization. This year has been no exception. According to US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) data, there has been a 26 percent increase in naturalization applications received nationally over the same period one year before. It would be easy to attribute this increase to Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric given that Google searches related to naturalization spiked in January of this year and seven of eight most searched questions were in Spanish, according to a recent TIME story. This is likely due in large part to the tireless effort of countless organizations across the country that want to see the growing Latino electorate demonstrate their power at the ballot box, regardless of who is running for the presidency now and in the future.    

It is estimated that Latino voters will account for 10 percent of Illinois’ electorate in 2016, and will total 27.3 million nationally. The Forum believes that Latino voter turnout for this election will also be at an all-time high nationally and in Illinois. Regardless of why Latinos show up at the ballot box next week, the Forum will continue to work to ensure that Latinos are heard in all aspects of policymaking because we are part of the fabric of this country and will continue to be.

Facts to Consider


  • Between October 2014 and June 2015 (Q1-Q3 FY15) USCIS received 578,018 total naturalization applications
  • Between October 2015 and June 2016 (Q1-Q3 FY16) USCIS received 725,925 total naturalization applications
  • Representing a 26% increase in naturalization applications received nationally during this period (147,907 applications)
  • 31% increase in pending naturalization application cases nationally in Q3 FY16 over Q3 of FY15 (124,617 applications)



  • Between October 2014 and June 2015 (Q1-Q3 FY15) USCIS received 21,703 total naturalization applications from IL
  • Between October 2015 and June 2016 (Q1-Q3 FY16) USCIS received 24,482 total naturalization applications from IL
  • Representing a 13% increase in total naturalization applications received from IL during this period (2,779 applications)
  • 23% increase in pending naturalization application cases in IL in Q3 of FY16 over Q3 of FY15 (3,282 applications)

Further context

  • NPNA report stated “based on normal processing times, we determined that those who applied to become citizens before June 2016 should have been able to complete their exams, take their oaths and register to vote by November”
  • Billions are allocated by DHS to deport immigrants, but there are insufficient funds to work with those who are attempting to naturalize
  • Agree with NPNAs assessment that USCIS should receive appropriations from Congress to adequately fund their naturalization efforts
  • Fee-based revenue scheme is not enough to guard against backlogs like this
  • Estimates for naturalization process is 5-8 months
  • Naturalization rates responsive to politics and economics
    • Anecdotal evidence that Trump is part of the reason for spike in naturalizations
    • Historically, presidential election years tend to see naturalization spikes overall
      • 18% increase from FY03 (456k) to FY04 (536k)
      • 59% increase from FY07 (659k) to FY08 (1M)
      • 10% increase from FY11 (691k) to FY12 (763k)
      • USCIS announced rate increases set to take effect this fall – no date given yet
        • Naturalization application: $595 to $640 (plus $85 for biometrics, totaling $725)
        • Certificate of Citizenship: $600 to $1,170 
  • About 48% of eligible Latino voters vote; 44% of Latino electorate are millennials; median age of U.S. born Latinos is 19
  • 951,000 eligible Latino voters in IL; 6th largest Latino eligible voter population nationally (Pew Hispanic Research)
  • 2.2 million Latinos in IL overall; 44% of Latinos in IL are eligible to vote
  • Nationally: 27.3 million eligible Latino voters in 2016 (Pew Hispanic Research)
    • Overall registered Latinos: Clinton 58% / Trump 19% / Johnson 10% / Stein 6%
    • Latino Millennials: Clinton 48% / Trump 15% / Johnson 13% / Stein 13%
    • Latino Non-Millennials: Clinton 66% / Trump 21% / Johnson 7% / Stein 1%


Posted In: Immigration, Immigration Reform & Policy