Hispanic members of Congress and Latino groups said Wednesday they will build on recent immigrant demonstrations by conducting citizenship workshops around the nation on July 1.
By helping more immigrants become citizens, the Hispanic lawmakers hope that they will increase the number of voters who might help defeat candidates considered anti-immigrant.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said the workshops will “harness the power and potential of the massive marches and peaceful protests we have seen across the country” in response to a border security bill passed by the House.
The bill, whose chief author is Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., included a provision making all illegal immigrants in the country subject to felony prosecution. That provision was considered the primary trigger for protests.
“The current immigration debate and particularly the Sensenbrenner bill that passed the House last December has made citizenship a priority for these men and women,” Gutierrez said.
Rep. Grace Napolitano, a California Democrat who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said an estimated 8 million legal immigrants in the country are eligible for citizenship. The workshops will be open to immigrants of all races and ethnicities, she said.
The Senate approved a bill last month that would provide a path to citizenship for most of an estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country and for foreigners who come to the country legally to work.
The House and Senate have not begun negotiations to reconcile their different bills and draft compromise legislation that can be sent to President Bush.
At the workshops, volunteers will instruct immigrants on how to become a citizen, help them fill out and mail applications and help resolve problems.
“We have shown our strength in numbers, we have shown our strength in economic power. Now it is time to show our strength at the voting booth,” said Jaime Contreras, director of the National Capital Immigration Coalition, an immigration advocacy group.
Gutierrez has been holding citizenship workshops in his district for a decade. Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, and a few other lawmakers also have held them.
By Wednesday, workshops were planned in the District of Columbia and at least 11 states: Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. Others may be scheduled.