May 10, 1995
By Yolanda Reynolds
Local community based organizations and community activists have launched a campaign to encourage all eligible persons to become American citizens so that they can vote. They have launched a six-months citizenship and voter drive.
A problem for those who it than who have applied for citizenship in San Jose has been the long waiting period for processing. In San Jose, it takes at least 390 days. The INS office in San Jose has been inundated by 2,400 applications with only 20 officers available in process the applications.
To help speed up this process at the local INS office, Richard Hobbs of Catholic Charities and others are asking for volunteers to help process the applications and recruit more permanent residents to apply for citizenship.
The group “Californians United for Equality,” is involved in this citizenship drive, was formed by people who fought against Prop. 187 (which targeted undocumented immigrants and attempts to restrict their access to educational, and health services in California). This initiative – now law – is being promoted in other states and, if fully implemented will cause many, citizens or not, great harms.
Many people took to the streets in opposition to Prop 187.
Before the election, it had been expected that the Initiative would fail since the Latino population is quite large in California. The measure easily passed. The reason was many Latinos did not vote. Many are not citizens and some who are citizens are not registered to vote or did not bother to vote and some even voted for the Proposition.
Some non-citizen residents of California have spent most of their lives here and have attended school here and are even college graduates. Californians United For Equality estimates that, “there are over one hundred thousand legal immigrants in Santa Clara County.” Long-time community activist and Raza Sí leader, Jorge Gonzales, has recently applied for U.S. citizenship. He is also co-chairperson of Californians for United Equality (CUE) one of the many groups involved in the citizenship and voter drive. CUE has set a goal to process 3,000 applications between May and September of 1995.
Recently, one group, the Voting Rights Coalition, prevailed upon the County Board of Supervisors to approve a new multi-lingual ballot in hopes of facilitating the involvement of citizens whose first language is not English. Other foreign languages besides Spanish, approved for the ballot, are Vietnamese and Chinese.
To help encourage more voting the County Registrar of Voters has made a concerted effort to register citizens to vote and to have workers at the polling booths who are fluent in the target languages at election time.
There are many incentives to become a citizen besides access to social services, education or jobs. Citizens are also afforded special rights – among them is the right: to vote and thus to have a voice in political matters such as Prop. 187, or the equally controversial affirmative action initiative that is expected to be on the ballot in 1996; to sit on a jury (this is very important since so many Latinos find themselves entangled with law enforcement) to run for public office; to serve in some federal government jobs (requiring security clearance); to more easily bring relatives to the United States, “without the waiting period imposed by the immigration preference period” and to travel abroad for unrestricted periods of time.
A person may take the U.S. citizenship exam if; they are eligibl to apply for citizenship in the next year, have studied U.S. history and government and are at an intermediate or advanced level of English. (The test is given only in English). The next test date is on May 20 at the Del Mar Adult Center Office at 1224 Del Mar Ave. in San Jose. In order to register to take the test a person must bring their INS card and another photo ID.
To be eligible for naturalization (citizenship), “an individual must be at least 18 years of age… of good character… demonstrate ability to speak, read, and write basic English and have a basic understanding of U.S. government and history,” “Older permanent residents who are 50 years and have lived here as permanent residents 20 years or more and those who are 55 years of age and lived here as permanent residents 15 years or more are exempt from the English requirement,” according INS publications.
The Center for Employment Training at 701 Vine Street offers a citizenship test preparation course that is free of charge for permanent residents (that is permanent residence status for five years or more years). The course prepares people to pass the U.S. History and government exam, instructions for filling out the interview application for naturalization and how to write basic sentences in English.
Neighborhoods with large numbers of non-residents will find that when they vote elected officials will pay more attention to their interests. Hopefully, many, who until now have felt it useless to vote or who after years in the United States, realize that they do not plan to return to their homeland, will change their minds and become registered citizens. Political pundits point out that Prop 187 type legislation will not pass in Florida. In Florida, large numbers of immigrants have become citizens and are active voters. Smart politicians notice that. In Florida, the Hispanic voters tend to be Republican.
In California, Republican Governor Pete Wilson has been a leader in pressing for anti-immigrants and anti-civil rights legislation. A change in voter participation would likely would likely change his thinking.
For more information on CET Citizenship courses, call 287-7924. Other free classes are available at Star of the Sea Church Hall in Alviso. For more information on the courses in Alviso call 262-7944 or 243-3981. The Metropolitan Adult Education Program is also offering free courses. They may be contacted at 947-2335.
Help is needed to process the hoped for 3,000 additional applications. To volunteer, speak to Teresa Castellanos at 944-0691. Volunteers are asked to commit a minimum of 2-3 hours a month and attend one training workshop. © La Oferta Newspaper.