This story originally appeared on Houston Public Media.
At a community center in southwest Houston, representatives of half a dozen different civic groups are gathered around tables formed into a square. They’re discussing the benefits to legal immigrants of applying for U.S. citizenship.
“My decision to become a citizen is to have the right to vote, and have the security and stability,” says Mateo Amador Perez, who came to the U.S. from the Monterrey area of Mexico. Perez has been a legal resident for about a decade, but he’s only just taken and passed his citizenship exam.
Benito Juarez is director of immigrant and refugee affairs in the office of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. Juarez’s office holds monthly community forums to help legal residents apply for citizenship. He says he’s been seeing a lot of people like Perez at those meetings lately.
“In the last one that we had last month,” Juarez says, “we asked most of the people that came and that we helped them to process their citizenship application why they were doing that. Almost all of them said, ‘Because I wanted to vote. I wanted to vote in the election.’”
Roughly one in every five Houston residents is an immigrant. The majority of these new arrivals are from Latin America.
Carlos Duarte is the Texas state director of Mi Familia Vota, a group focused on encouraging Latino voter registration.
“By 2020, they are going to be the largest demographic group, and yet they are not participating in public life as heavily as we would need them to,” Duarte says.
But there are early indications that 2016 could prove a watershed. According toU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the number of approved citizenship applications from Greater Houston reached 26,598 in fiscal year 2015, the last full year for which records are available. That’s up about 45 percent compared to where they stood at the same point in each of the previous two presidential election cycles. For Texas as a whole, the number of applications approved is up 25 percent.