The race to citizenship prior to Trump’s Inauguration (Multimedia)
With only one day until the Trump administration takes office, thousands of immigrants made their way to their naturalization ceremony feeling relieved but fearful for those left behind.
Over 2,402 American flags swarmed South Hall G of the Los Angeles Convention Center for the morning ceremony as immigrants filled their seats minutes before being sworn in as naturalized citizens. Two of those flags were waved by Guillermo Alejandre and Ricardo Murga, who sat next to each other. They came from two different countries, but shared the same goal: become a U.S. citizen before Trump’s inauguration.
“I think it says a lot about all of us here today,” Alejandre said. “Becoming a U.S. citizen means safety for me and my family. I hope it won’t be too late for other people.”
Alejandre from Guadalajara, Mexico, and Murga from Guatemala City, Guatemala have had green cards for many years but have found it challenging to become citizens until now. They believe that the future for immigrants under Trump is uncertain and gaining citizenship now is perhaps the best time to.
And they were not the only ones. In March of last year, Murga applied for citizenship but the process prolonged much longer than he had anticipated. He placed a call in October to ask U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services about his status. It was not until late December that he was able to continue with the process due to a significant volume of applicants interested in becoming citizens in time for voting.
Murga’s citizenship instructor Patricia Hernandez says that she has had up to five people enroll at once this week alone, a number very unusual in comparison to other years around this time. With a growing number of approximately 8.8 million immigrants eligible for citizenship, Citizenship and Immigration’s latest data shows that applications for citizenship have increased by more than 14 percent in comparison to previous years.
“I had not made that connection,” Hernandez said after learning why so many people had enrolled in her class. “Last night, a student told me, ‘My husband became a citizen…and when I saw that Trump was going to be president, well that’s why I’m in this class.’”
After the ceremony, families of all racial and ethnic backgrounds awaited their loved ones with cheers as they came down the escalators. Alejandre and Murga parted ways after walking through the two rows of proud family members and into each of their families arms.
“I feel very happy to have become a citizen under Barack Obama’s governing,” Murga said through a Spanish interpreter. “I feel good because I don’t know how things will change with the new president…There will be lots of difficulties. To begin, citizenship fees have gone up.”
Though strangers with different stories, Murga and Alejandre learned a lot about each other minutes before the ceremony. Both fathers working in blue-collar job fields said becoming a citizen meant safety, privilege, and a peace of mind for their children. They each, however, fear time is ticking for immigrants in the country and are uncertain of events following Trump’s inauguration.