Citizenship drive increases Hispanics’ voting power

CHICAGO (AP)—Hispanics, who represent about one-fifth of Chicago’s residents, may be carrying heavier clout into local elections after changes in immigration laws that are letting more Hispanics become citizens.

More than 100,000 illegal immigrants in the Chicago area, most of them Hispanics, received immunity under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. Many become eligible for citizenship this year and next.

A citizenship campaign among the approximately 550,000 Hispanics in the city by the United Neighborhood Organization of Chicago and other groups already is paying dividends.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service received 7,103 applications for citizenship from January through March, up from 4,486 during the same period last year. And in April, nearly 4,500 applications were received.

‘‘Ten to 15 years ago, we were nonplayers’‘ in elections, said Juan Andrade Jr., president of Midwest-Northeast Voter Registration Education Project, which seeks to mobilize Hispanic voters.

By October 1992, his group had helped push the number of registered Hispanic voters to 137,000 in the city.

Lu Palmer, a black political activist who helped organize a weekend rally to search for a black mayoral candidate in 1995, already was taking the Hispanic vote into account.

Palmer said Sunday that the white-Hispanic vote would have to be split among more than one candidate for a black to have a good chance to win.

While the potential exists for a big jump in numbers of Hispanic citizens and voters, only 6 percent of eligible Hispanics have applied for citizenship in the past.

Many may believe the citizenship test is too difficult, even though 96 percent of Hispanics pass it the first time, said Danny Solis, president of United Neighborhood.

His group and others are working to overcome this attitude, blanketing Hispanic neighborhoods with fliers about the benefits of citizenship.