By the end of 2020, Arizona will have gained more than 49,000 new eligible voters who are immigrants since the 2016 presidential election, according to an analysis from the New Partnership for New Americans.
NPNA, a national coalition of 37 immigrant and refugee advocacy groups, also estimates 3.1 million immigrants will have become U.S. citizens by the end of 2020 since the election of President Donald Trump. In the 2020 election, 1 in 10 eligible voters nationally are immigrants — that is, foreign-born adults who became U.S. citizens through naturalization, the Pew Research Center estimated.
In Arizona, eligible immigrant voters account for 8% of the estimated 5 million eligible voters in 2020, according to Pew. In 2016, that figure was also 8%, according to Census data.
At a naturalization ceremony on March 10, Mona Abubakr’s three boys played at her feet as she sat in a crowded room inside the Phoenix offices of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that adjudicates immigration benefits like visas and green cards.
Abukar, a 30-year-old immigrant from Sudan, had just taken the Oath of Allegiance, which is the last step in the naturalization process. When a USCIS representative at the ceremony handed her the certificate of naturalization, the official proof that she’s a U.S. citizen, Abukar carefully slipped it inside a white envelope, closed the envelope and delicately ran her right hand over it.
Abukar said she’s excited to vote for the first time in her life. She said the first thing she will do as a citizen is register to vote.
“I’m excited to have a voice,” she said. “I have a voice. My voice can bring change.”
Back in Sudan when she was young, Abukar said she’d watch political debates with her dad. But she never voted because she didn’t think it would make a difference. She left Sudan at 18, she said.
In the U.S., Abukar said she’s been following all the presidential Democratic debates. While it’s too late for her to register to vote for the March 17 presidential preference election, Abukar is looking forward to voting later in the year.
Abukar, who is a math teacher, said she’s planning to take the day off to vote.
That morning at the USCIS ceremony, 66 people became U.S. citizens. They hailed from 29 different countries including Bhutan, Canada, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Romania and the United Kingdom.
Margie Fusce, another newly minted U.S. citizen, said she’s also looking forward to voting. She said now being a U.S. citizen gives her a sense of safety.
“I have that covering, that shelter … and I can vote!” Fusce said. “I always wanted to vote, I can finally vote! … Be able to sign up, register. I feel like I can make a difference.”
Fusce, 57, arrived in the country from the Dominican Republic when she was 7. She grew up in New York and has been living in Arizona for 13 years. She said she didn’t make going through the naturalization process a priority until last year.
According to an analysis from the University of Southern California, there are more than 200,000 immigrant adults in Arizona who are eligible for naturalization.
Several Arizona groups have programs to encourage immigrants who are permanent residents to apply for citizenship. Since October 2016, Promise Arizona has helped over 400 eligible immigrants apply for naturalization, said Petra Falcon.
In fiscal year 2019, USCIS naturalized 834,000 people, which marked an 11-year high, according to agency spokeswoman Maria Elena Upson.
The Trump administration has proposed a 61% increase the fees of applying for naturalization, taking it from $725 to $1,170, and eliminating waivers for low-income applicants.