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Leticia de la Paz’s family has two major motivations for pursuing U.S. citizenship.

They want to move past the discrimination they feel as foreign-born residents, and they want to take part in choosing a leader who, as de la Paz says, “will care about immigrants and a better future.”

She shares these sentiments through a Spanish-language interpreter, as her 25-year-old daughter, Gabriela, works through a crowded room at Nashville’s Global Mall where dozens of Middle Tennessee immigrants are completing the paperwork that will put them on the path to naturalization.

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“We are here in the United States to have a better life and to have better rights,” says Leticia de la Paz, whose husband came to the United States in 1989 and became a citizen last year, inspiring their daughter.

For many, this is the next step.

Tennessee has one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the country, according to Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. Already, more than 114,000, or nearly 38 percent of the total foreign-born population, are naturalized citizens and eligible to vote, she says. Statewide another approximately 75,000 immigrants are eligible to apply for citizenship today but haven’t taken action.

For Cristina Corona, a 30-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, the clinic carried concrete value.

Two years ago, Corona began the citizenship process, hiring a local lawyer to walk her through the process. She spent $10,000, she said, and then the firm shut down and all her information was lost.

On Saturday, she started again.

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Like the de la Paz family, Corona said she faces discrimination, particularly in airports where she often gets detained. She hopes having a U.S. passport will ease that. She also hopes it will help her find more job opportunities beyond working as a server in her mother’s cafe on Nolensville Pike.

And there is one more motivating factor: Her mother’s insistence that Corona vote. “She says all the time, ‘Get out to the polls.’ ”

As the number of immigrant families continues to grow, so does their political power.

Immigrant voters played a vital role in the recent Nashville mayoral election, as the immigrant coalition registered hundreds of new American voters, and immigrant community members reportedly turned out to the polls in large numbers, though official voter turnout demographics are not yet available.

Nashville mayoral candidates took notice of the growing immigrant vote, as every candidate attended the local Immigrant and Refugee mayoral forum. Candidates translated campaign materials into Spanish, they visited mosques and did interviews on Spanish-language radio.

Via: The Tennessean

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