Despite all of his assertions to the contrary, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's rhetoric against Latino immigrants may be hurting him with a new report showing they are rushing to become US citizens to vote against the GOP frontrunner.
The New York Times reported federal figures showing that naturalisation applications increased by 11% in the 2015 fiscal year over the previous year and surged 14% in the six months ending in January 2016. Advocates claim that the pace is rapidly rising, with applications estimated to reach 1 million in 2016, or 200,000 more than the average.
The New York Times spoke to one family of legal immigrants from Mexico who said that they are starting the citizenship process specifically to vote against Trump. "I want to vote so Donald Trump won't win," 32-year-old Hortensia Villegas told the Times. Villegas recently went to a Denver union all to begin the citizenship application.
Villegas' husband, 30-year-old Colorado native Miguel Garfío, said: "A lot of people are opening their eyes because of all the negative stuff Donald Trump has brought."
Trump began his campaign by describing Mexican immigrants as drug-traffickers and rapists. In the months since his campaign launch in June, the billionaire real estate mogul has vowed to make Mexico pay for a border wall and to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US.
Garfío said none of his relatives, including his parents who came from Mexico in the 1980s and helped him create a construction company that employs 18 people, have criminal records.
According to the Times, among the 8.8 million legal residents eligible to apply for citizenship, around 2.7 million are Mexican. The Pew Research Center notes, however, that despite being the largest national group among legal citizens, only 36% of eligible Mexicans have become citizens compared with 68% of all other immigrants.
Legal immigrants hoping to become citizens have a bit more help this year from both the White House and non-profit groups, the Times reported. President Barack Obama launched a national campaign in September to encourage legal residents to move forward with the application. Applicants now have the option of paying the $680 (£477) application fee using a credit card and can practice the civic test online.
The Obama Administration swore in over 20,000 new citizens on Presidents' Day (15 February) and on 2 March announced $10m in grants to groups helping immigrants throughout the process. The Times reported that naturalisation drives are taking place in Nevada and Florida—two states where Latino voters could provide a crucial margin in the November general election.
In Denver, 40-year-old Minerva Guerrero Salazar said she was vehemently against Trump. "He has no conscience when he speaks of Latinos. And he is so rude. I don't know what kind of education his mother gave him."
"People who are eligible are really feeling the urgency to get out there," Tara Raghuveer, deputy director of the National Partnership for New Americans, said. "They are worried by the prospect that someone who is running for president has said hateful things."
A 25 February poll of Latino voters by The Washington Post and Univision found that 80% of Latino voters had an unfavourable view of Trump. It also revealed Latino voters are more likely to support Democrats (51%) than Republicans (14%).
Trump, however, does not appear concerned. During the 26 February GOP debate in Houston, Texas, the bombastic former reality TV star said, "I'm just telling you that I will do really well with Hispanics." Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks added: "No one will benefit more from Mr Trump's pro-worker immigration reforms than the millions of immigrants who already call America home."