Immigration advocates flex political muscle

Immigrant advocates have unveiled a “Democracy Summer” campaign to convince more than 12 million legal immigrants to seek U.S. citizenship in time to vote in the 2008 presidential election.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the We Are America Alliance, among other organizations, also announced Thursday that they will hold citizenship workshops this year in 19 states in hopes of registering at least 1 million naturalized citizens in time for this year’s congressional, state and local elections.

The groups issued a study of foreign-born legal residents that found 14 million could be eligible to vote someday, and that 12.4 million of them have lived in the United States long enough to be eligible to vote in 2008.

“The chant ‘Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote’ is not empty rhetoric,” Josh Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois coalition, told a press conference in Washington. “It shows that immigrant voters have a potential to impact the presidential election.”

Legal residents can become citizens in about six months, the groups said. Advocates are pushing for immigrants to start on the path for citizenship now in case Congress passes an immigration standard that makes citizenship more difficult to attain.

The Senate recently passed an amendment to the comprehensive immigration bill under which, starting in 2008, immigrants seeking citizenship would have to “demonstrate an understanding of the history of the United States, including the key events, key persons, key ideas and key documents that shaped the institutions and democratic heritage of the United States.”

Applicants would be expected to know about the Federalist Papers, the Emancipation Proclamation, major court decisions and important laws, pioneers, entrepreneurs and artists.

Hoyt said the pro-immigrant groups want to have as many people ready for citizenship as possible before there’s a new citizenship test that “only graduates and Ph.D. professors are capable of passing.”

After mass demonstrations earlier this year by immigrants upset by restrictive immigration reforms pending in Congress, applications for citizenship increased by 20 percent, the advocacy groups said.

“We were able to see what immigrants can do when they get angry,” said Cristina Lopez, deputy executive director of the Center for Community Change.

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