Immigrant advocates: ‘More demand’ for US citizenship


HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — An immigrant advocacy group in West Michigan says they are seeing a major uptick in people applying to become permanent U.S. citizens, and claims the Trump administration is the reason why.

Latin Americans United for Progress, or LAUP, which organized a citizenship workshop in Holland on Saturday, offers classes every year — they’re nothing new. But since the beginning of the year and President Donald Trump took office —  they have added extra courses, as more and more immigrants are working to become U.S. citizens.

“There’s more demand now than I’ve ever seen for people to take that final step,” Roberto Jara, LAUP’s executive director, told 24 Hour News 8 Saturday.

Nearly two dozen immigrants, all green card holders with legal permanent residency, attended Saturday’s workshop to fill out their final citizenship application, known as Form N-400. It was the culmination of a 10-week course — a sort of civics class — on all things U.S. history and government.

Among the students was Zobeida Zanabria.

“Well, I feel really excited,” Zanabria said about filling out her citizenship application.

Zanabria moved to the U.S. from Mexico on a temporary basis back in 1991 on a work permit. She then obtained a green card in 2004 to stay in the states. But now, she said the Trump administration led her to apply for permanent citizenship.

“It’s scary because (there is) of a lot of change,” she said of the Trump administration.

It’s no secret: Trump has taken a hard-line stance on illegal immigration. One of his major campaign promises was to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Legal experts at Saturday’s workshop argue that even immigrants who are in the U.S. legally with green cards have reason to be concerned.

“Citizenship is not easily revoked, whereas permanent residency — which is what all of these folks have right now — can be revoked rather easily,” Sarah Yore-Van Oosterhout, managing attorney for Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates, told 24 Hour News 8. “As we were discovering during that period of time when they were enforcing the travel ban, even people with green cards or permanent residency cards were not being allowed to enter the United States.”

Citizenship would also give the immigrants the opportunity to vote.

Jara said the people taking the citizenship classes have an unmissable passion for the United States.

“There’s a deep love for the ideals of the U.S. When you see these individuals take their oath, you see tears in their eyes,” Jara said. “These are the kind of people we want to be here making the country even greater than it already is.”

Yore-Van Oosterhout said immigrants have to be green card holders and have lawful permanent residence for several years — in most cases, 5 years — before they can apply to become a U.S. citizen.

In the case of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, the process is entirely different. In some cases, Yore-Van Oosterhout said a path to legal citizenship is not possible. She also works with those individuals to determine what options may be available.