Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Newly Naturalized Citizens Ready to Reshape California's Political Landscape

Last year more than 1 million immigrants became naturalized U.S. citizens, the largest number in history, 300,000 of them in California alone, many of them Asian and Latino.  California’s new citizens accounted for nearly one-third of the nation’s total immigrants and represented a near doubling over 2006, according to a report by the U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics.  Florida recorded the second-largest group of new citizens, and Texas claimed the fastest growth.

These newly naturalized citizens can possibly re-shape California’s policy priorities.

One-fourth of the immigrants who became citizens in California were Mexicans, who have traditionally registered low rates of naturalization. They were followed by Indians, Filipinos, Chinese, Cubans and Vietnamese.

As California faces a critical and contentious special election over spending measures this month, several polls report that Latinos and Asians are more supportive than whites of public investments and broad services, even if they require higher taxes.  According to recent polls by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, most Latinos support all five budget propositions on the May ballot while most whites oppose them.

Although typecast as largely conservative, most Asian Americans supported a 2004 measure requiring large businesses to provide health insurance to employees, even as it failed at the ballot box, according to an analysis by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles.

Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute says, “As we have more Asian American and Latino voters, our electorate will begin to look more like the face of the public at large.”

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials said, “The path to the 1-million mark was paved by an organized collaboration among community activists, the Spanish-language media and government. Univision TV network and La Opinion newspaper, in particular, had many stories about the importance of citizenship and demystified the application process.”

Joanuen Llama, age 26, said she was inspired to become a citizen in March 2008 after joining the massive immigrant rights marches of recent years and took to heart their slogan, “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.”

Llamas who voted for Obama in November said, “It made me think that that’s the way to change anything in this country.”

Nationally, nonwhite voters overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy, while most whites voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a recent study by the Pew Research Center showed.

Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican political consultant in Los Angeles said, “Those demographic and political trends will continue to marginalize Republicans unless the party makes major changes in its tone and policies toward immigrants.”

Hoffenblum adds, “The reason the Republican Party is in such dire straits is its inability to successfully reach out and change its image among Latinos and Asians,” he said. “The image is too shrill on immigration. It’s an image of an intolerant cult.”

Vargas thinks the citizenship wave will help Latinos and other new U.S. citizens contribute even more to the country.  A reported 8 million Latinos still have not yet claimed citizenship although they are eligible.

He added, “This isn’t about helping Latinos for the sake of helping Latinos. This is about helping Latinos succeed for the sake of America.”

Los Angeles Times