The Service Employees International Union is teaming up with four Latino advocacy organizations and a key House Democrat to convert as many of the 5 million Latino permanent residents into U.S. citizens and voters as possible before Election Day.
Leading the charge is Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who said Thursday that he believes the "stand up to hate" push can get 1 million of those Latinos naturalized by May, which would see them become citizens in time to register for the presidential election.
The campaign's mantra is "Naturalize. Register. Vote."
Gutierrez advised Latinos to "get angry" over the anti-immigrant rhetoric emanating from Republican presidential candidates "then naturalize, register and vote."
"Can you believe calling all Mexicans rapists?" he asked during a conference call announcing the New American Democracy Campaign, referring to controversial comments made by real estate mogul and former reality TV star Donald Trump. "Banning all people of one religion from the United States?"
There's nothing the groups can do to speed up the naturalization process, but the initiative is aimed at making sure the millions of legal permanent residents trade in their green cards for citizenship.
Gutierrez said he's excited to travel across the country, starting in his hometown of Chicago, to attend as many of the nearly 100 naturalization seminars that the collaborating organizations are putting on. He also plans to hit Colorado, Florida and Nevada, among other states with significant Latino populations.
The groups involved are: iAmerica Action, Latino Victory Foundation, Mi Familia Vota, National Partnership for New Americans, and the SEIU.
In addition to the naturalization seminars, the groups will be airing ads, beginning in the run up to Nevada's caucuses late next month. They will also launch a digital campaign, beginning with a website for the New American Democracy Campaign, which strives to "remove the barriers that keep eligible immigrants from naturalizing, increase naturalization and mobilize voters by creating the first-ever voter registration program for naturalized citizens and for the U.S.-citizen children of immigrants."
The site, which points visitors to events in their areas, states that the campaign launched because "xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric has inundated the presidential campaign trail" and therefore, "we must empower the immigrant community so that their voices may be heard at the polls."
Gutierrez predicted, "this is going to be significant." The campaign will also reach out to and work with organizations representing other immigrant-heavy populations, such as Asian Americans.
President Obama's 2012 margin of victory over Mitt Romney was almost exactly 5 million votes.
Rocio Saenz, SEIU International executive vice president, said her union has already helped 500 members become citizens. The first seminars sponsored by the groups are scheduled for Saturday in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Texas.
Maria Rodriguez of the Florida Immigrant Coalition said Latinos have to stand up for themselves and show their displeasure with the tone of the GOP campaign by voting against Trump and other Republicans who espouse similar views.
"If we're not at the table, we're on the menu," she said.