Michigan groups see spike in citizenship applications

Posted at 6:39 PM, May 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-25 18:39:49-04

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. (AP) — Advocates who are helping a growing number of immigrants in southeastern Michigan apply for U.S. citizenship say many are driven by fear of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

The Detroit New Americans Campaign has been offering informational sessions and workshops about citizenship applications, the Detroit Free Press reported . The project has been collaborating with local community groups to encourage immigrants eligible for citizenship to apply.

The number of immigrants in Michigan applying to become U.S. citizens increased by 25%, from 13,186 in 2014 to 16,539 in 2018, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data.

The number nationwide has decreased after reaching a peak of 1,023,235 in 2016, but Michigan’s number kept climbing past the presidential election year.

“There is an uncertainty, a fear of the political environment,” said Yumana Dubaisi, supervising attorney at the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit.

“We’ve seen a rush now,” Dubaisi said at a recent workshop at a Yemeni American community center in Hamtramck. “Before they used to feel safer.”

More than 16,539 immigrants applied for citizenship in Michigan last year. Of those, 4,117 immigrants applied to be U.S. citizens in the last three months of the year, according to the USCIS. About 14,584 were approved to become citizens last year, which is an increase of 21% since 2014.

The Trump administration has considered making it easier to deport immigrants who receive public assistance, such as food stamps and housing vouchers.

Immigrant advocates have worried that it’s led some immigrants and families to refuse social services that they may need. The changes are part of the administration’s effort to shift to a system that focuses on immigrants’ skills.

“I think the greatest benefit of citizenship that you can have is security,” Ruby Robinson, an attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, said at a workshop at the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights, which helps Iraqi immigrants. “Once you are a citizen, you cannot be deported.”

Hameed Alsobhi, 33, emigrated from Yemen and works as a cashier in Hamtramck. He said he wants to become a citizen so that he can vote.

Alsobhi and Suad Obaid, 38, who are also from Yemen, are working to improve their English for the citizenship exam.

Obaid said she hopes for more freedom to visit her home country, which is among those on the administration’s travel ban.

The ban blocks citizens from five Muslim-majority countries and their immediate families from traveling or immigrating to the United States.