Dolores Benitez says the American dream for her means feeling free, having a good job, owning her own business—and being able to vote.
“The principal motive of why I want to become a citizen is because I want to go and vote,” Benitez told Fusion earlier this week during an interview from her home in Las Vegas.
But her son has a slightly different set of reasons for wanting to vote. He wants to stop candidates like Donald Trump.
“I feel like the Republican party is not pushing for a society that coexist together. There’s certain candidates like Donald Trump that are promoting hate and that’s not what America is about,” said Emmanuel Benitez, who is currently going through the process of becoming a U.S. naturalized citizen with his father and mother.
There’s always a rush of immigrants becoming citizens and registering to vote in big election years. But this year voting rights organizations have noticed a phenomenon they have dubbed the “Trump effect.”
“The interest in this election, this early on, is higher among Latinos than in elections past, and this of course has to do with the rhetoric being used on the right that has been at times hateful towards Latinos,” said Mario Carillo, a spokesperson at Voto Latino, a group that works to mobilize Latinos to engage in the civic process.
Voto Latino says interest amongst Latinos in this election is “certainly higher than we’ve done in the past.”
The Benitez family have been residents of the United States for more than a decade but have sped up the citizenship process ahead of the 2016 election. Now Emmanuel Benitez says he feels like he has “a moral responsibility” to make sure he can vote, especially when candidates are discussing immigration.
“We are definitely seeing evidence of Latinos wanting to participate in this year’s election,” said Felipe Benitez (no relation), a spokesperson for Mi Familia Vota, an organization that promotes civic engagement in the Latino community.
The spokesperson said this year Mi Familia Vota is receiving three times as many RSVPs for their workshops that prepare residents to apply to become naturalized citizens.
“Our community is responding to the hateful rhetoric coming from the GOP candidates towards immigrants, not only from Trump but from other candidates that have followed his lead,” said Benitez of Mi Familia Vota.
The Benitez family lives in Clark County, the most populous county in Nevada. That growth has largely stemmed from immigrants. Between 2000 and 2010 Clark County ranked third in absolute growth in immigrants among the nation’s counties, behind Harris County in Texas and Riverside County in California.
In Clarke County schools, the English Language Learner population exceeds 30%—numbers similar to the Los Angeles school district, where almost 1 in 3 students are learning English. But what is different in Clarke County is that the demographic change has happened so fast that prior to 2013 the state didn’t appropriate any direct funds for English language learners.
“I went to a predominantly white school and when I would mention that I’m not a U.S. citizen right off the bat [people would say] you must be an illegal,” said Emmanuel Benitez
“Just the idea that I wasn’t accepted because of that title really struck me and has really [pushed] me to become a citizen and speak out on certain issues,” Emmanuel Benitez said.
But the community is quickly changing. And as the sons and daughters of immigrants turn 18 years-old they’ll also become eligible to vote.
The Benitez family lives in Nevada, which has the sixth-highest share of eligible Latino voters in the country but not all of them are registered to vote. There also other Latinos like the Benitez family who are eligible to apply for citizenship but have not started the process which typically can take up to six months.
On a national level there are some 27.3 million Latinos eligible to cast ballots in the 2016 election, but there are still some 12 million eligible voters who have not registered to vote.
The Benitez family will not be able to participate in the Nevada caucuses for Democrats on Saturday but hope to be registered voters by election day in November.
“If I could caucus I would definitely caucus for Mr. Bernie Sanders. His ideas for humanity are futuristic,” said Emmanuel Benitez.