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Trump Spurs Oregon Latinos to Apply for Citizenship

Jacob Lewin/KLCC
Sergio Ulloa, a legal immigrant from El Salvador, has applied for US citizenship, at least in part because of his concern about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Oregon is seeing a big increase in the number of Latinos applying for citizenship.  The main reason is the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Sergio Ulloa, a dental surgeon back in his native El Salvador, came to Oregon in 1995, when there were far fewer Latinos here.  One of the first things he did was explore Portland's upscale Pearl District where he went to a restaurant for lunch:

"Soon as I walk into the restaurant, the hostess is like, 'Oh my God! You're here!' I follow her to the kitchen, then the gentleman comes to me and is like, 'Oh  José, welcome!'  I was like, 'No my name is not José.' ' You came in for the dishwasher position?' 'Actually, no.'"

Now there are a half million Latinos in the state, nearly one-hundred of them legal permanent residents, green card holders.  Ulloa has been a legal permanent resident for 20 years, long eligible to apply for citizenship. But he only applied recently, partly because of Donald Trump:

"First of all, when he attacks my people, if I say that as a Latino person, a person from El Salvador, Mexico, other countries. I never in my years living in this country, I never see any person who tried to be president, instigate people against each other."

When announcing his candidacy, Trump said, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people."

Ulloa also decided to become a citizen in order to vote for Hillary Clinton and be a part of history by sending the first woman to the White House. But, as with many other Latinos in Oregon, Ulloa is not only upset with Trump's comments, his desire to build a  wall dividing allies, and his vow to deport all eleven million immigrants here illegally; he sees citizenship as a kind of shield:

"It is the protection that will offer me. It's not going to be an excuse for them to say, oh you have to leave this country."

Oregon's best-known Trump endorser is talk show host Lars Larson. He says legal permanent residents would have nothing to worry about:

"Donald Trump does not say he's against immigration. He says he is against  doing it illegally. We have over the last several decades  created a special status group of illegal aliens and they're allowed to break laws."

Critics say Trump is making immigration a top issue even though the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has actually declined in recent years.  Larson says there's a reason:

"I think it's a keystone issue because the temporary out-migration is because Mexico's economy has improved and the United States economy has not improved as much and it's a temporary phenomenon."

Trump has also said that mass deportation would economically benefit immigrants who are here legally. Nationally about a million permanent residents applied to citizenship in 2015, a 12-percent increase, with the Obama administration launching an information campaign.

In Oregon, the number of permanent residents was also up 12-percent in 2015--with a surge in the second half of the year--totally eight thousand people. The civil rights group Causa holds citizenship workshops around the state. Executive Director Andrea Miller says they ask participants why they want to become citizens:

"95-percent of them said they were becoming a U.S. citizen because they wanted to vote. I would say 50-percent of them referred specifically to Trump."

Sergio Ulloa thinks the presidential campaigns have already had an influence. He says in 20 years, he never was insulted to his face because of his race, but recently:

"I was waiting for the train and there was these guys, you know, and they walk by me and they look at me and one of them says like, I hate those people."

Ulloa should know  before the November election whether his application for citizenship is  accepted.

Copyright 2016 KLCC