Inspired by Trump, more immigrants rush to become U.S. citizens

applications up by almost 30%

Article from Mercury News (California):

OAKLAND — Shruok Radwan smiled broadly as she raised her right hand and recited an oath of allegiance to the United States, her face framed by a peach-colored hijab. 

She was one of 1,274 immigrants who became U.S. citizens on Thursday in the cavernous, ornate Paramount Theatre, waving tiny American flags as their relatives cheered from the balcony above.

But Radwan’s mind was on her parents and siblings, thousands of miles away in Egypt. She’s been too scared to visit them since President Donald Trump sought to impose immigration limits in January. Even though Egypt wasn’t one of the countries named in the ban, Radwan, 26, who lives in Daly City, said she feared she’d be targeted at the airport as a Muslim and blocked from returning to her husband and daughter in the U.S.

“I finally feel like I belong here,” she said, clutching her passport application. “Now I can have the confidence to visit my mom and my family again.”

Since Trump took office, his policies have inspired thousands of immigrants like Radwan to apply for citizenship. Between October and December 2016, the latest data available, 238,062 people applied for naturalization, according to Citizenship and Immigration Services records, compared with 185,466 applications during the same time period in 2015 — a nearly 30 percent  jump.

California saw a similar increase, from 36,282 applications in the last three months of 2015 to 50,317 applications in the last three months of 2016.

Before November, those applying for naturalization were motivated in part by the chance to vote in a historic election. Now, immigrants and their advocates say, they are turning to citizenship as a shield against an administration that they believe is targeting more immigrants for deportation and making it more difficult for them to travel abroad.

Even though most of the people who became citizens on Thursday applied before Trump won the election, many said they thought having him in the White House made citizenship more critical.  

Siddharth Yadav, 21, a student who came with his parents from India to Fremont when he was 11, said “the most urgent concern is our president.” As a noncitizen, “you feel like an outsider,” he said. “It’s always there in the back of your mind.”

The new Americans, dressed in suits and saris, veils and vests, came from 89 different countries. The largest groups were from China, India, Mexico and the Philippines. Some started lining up outside the Paramount three hours before the ceremony began.

Together, they recited an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and then said the Pledge of Allegiance and waved miniature American flags. Some Snapchatted the moment or took selfies, and others watched with tears in their eyes. A few people in the crowd couldn’t stop grinning, while some of their neighbors stared seriously straight ahead.

Grecia Quintana, 22, who was born in Mexico but came with her family to the U.S. when she was 4, was jittery with nerves. She said her decision to become a citizen was “not just to live here, it’s to feel like I’m a part of this country.” It will also help her career: She’s becoming a police officer in Santa Rosa, where she lives.

Any permanent resident who’s lived in the U.S. for at least five years, has no serious criminal convictions, and passes a series of interviews and exams can become a citizen.

Ceremonies like this around the country and the state have been crowded in recent months. Nasim Khansari, the citizenship project director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a Los Angeles nonprofit that helps register immigrants for citizenship, said her office had seen an “astronomical” increase in people looking for help with their applications. They’re on track to serve double the typical number of clients in 2017, she said.

“Fear does motivate people — a fear of being deported, a fear of being targeted,” Khansari said. “They know that citizenship is the ultimate protection against this administration.

The new president wasn’t the inspiration for everyone. Suleyman Yimam, 31, who immigrated from Ethiopia six years ago, said he had “no problem” with Trump. He was most excited about marrying his fiancée, who still lives in Ethiopia, and bringing her to the U.S.

“It’s a wonderful country. It’s wonderful to live in a democracy,” he said, with a big smile plastered across his face.

After the ceremony, the theater’s richly carpeted hallways echoed with different languages and accents, and kids ran back and forth. The new citizens took turns posing for photos in front of a lone American flag.

If naturalization continues at such a brisk pace, it could impact U.S. politics. Outside the theater, volunteers with the anti-Trump organization Indivisible and other political groups handed out clipboards with voter registration forms. Newly minted citizens hunched over ironing boards on the sidewalk to fill them out amid several smiling cardboard cutouts of former President Barack Obama.

Trump’s image was nowhere to be seen. “That might scare people,” mused Brenda Berlin, 77, a volunteer from San Francisco.

Diana Trujillo, 33, who’s from Mexico, walked out of the theater feeling a little shellshocked. “It didn’t really hit me until right now,” she said. “I’m American.”

Trujillo, a nurse who lives in San Francisco, has been in the U.S. for 26 years. She finally decided to apply for citizenship during the 2016 election campaign, as she watched friends campaign and vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton while she felt powerless to stop Trump.

“Every four years we’ve got the chance to speak out,” she said. “I’ll be ready for the next election.”