US Hispanics Find Ally in Salinas
Latinos use president's visit to urge legal Mexican-American residents to become US citizens. CHICAGO
GROWING like crazy and hungry for power, the Hispanic population in the United States has found an ally in - or at least an overlapping of interests with - Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Mexico's president visited Chicago, home to this nation's second-largest Mexican-American community, Wednesday and Thursday while in the US to negotiate and promote a free-trade agreement.Skip to next paragraph
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Latino leaders here said before Mr. Salinas arrived that they would use his visit to urge legal Mexican-American residents to become naturalized US citizens.
Voter registration drives are uncovering ``an overwhelmingly large number of permanent residents ineligible to vote because of a lack of citizenship,'' says Daniel Perez of the Los Angeles-based National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. NALEO concentrates its efforts in the states with the largest proportions of Hispanics, which it calls ``the big nine'' - Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Texas.
In Chicago, where Hispanics are 20 percent of the residents but only 8 percent of the voters, NALEO recently opened an office to do nothing but encourage naturalization.
The United Neighborhood Organization, a predominantly Hispanic group, plans to launch a naturalization drive in Chicago late this year. The Salinas visit, UNO executive director Daniel Solis said, would be an opportunity to talk about the effort. The Mexican president would ``understand that this is going on.''
``We don't necessarily want him to comment on it,'' Mr. Solis said, ``because we recognize that it would be very difficult for a president of another country to encourage citizens to naturalize elsewhere.'' Especially when the purpose is political, he might have added, although the Mexican consul here has endorsed the effort.
``Just making that information available, and [Salinas's] being there in the audience, is going to send a strong message to the Mexican constituency in the city that it's a positive thing for people to become naturalized,'' Solis said.
UNO executives say that naturalization could result by 1994 in 160,000 new Hispanic citizens. If historical patterns hold, 80 percent will cast ballots in elections, while turnout among other citizens can be much lower. ``A naturalized citizen is a better voter,'' says Bill Gilseth, director of UNO Southwest.
The drive is being delayed until fall to take advantage of the expected change in naturalization from a judicial to an administrative procedure.
``If we had to rely on a judicial naturalization process, the court system here in Chicago probably couldn't handle more than 20,000 cases a year,'' Solis says. But under the coming system, UNO could fill a football stadium ``and naturalize them all in one swoop.''
The US-Mexico trade talks come as state legislatures, scrutinizing population data from last year's decenniel census, prepare to redraw political boundaries. City councils, county officials, state senators and representatives, judges, and members of Congress will be elected from the new voting districts.