Libre Initiative volunteer Felipe Rodriguez-Otero, left, distributes informative pamplets to Blanca Prado, center, and Margarita Guerrero, both of Miami, at Ekklesia Church in Miami Sunday, March 2, 2014. LIBRE Initiative, a group that formed in 2011 that tries to get Hispanics to register to vote while educating them on Republican ideals. / Ana Zangroniz for USA TODAY
MIAMI - The solution seems simple enough.
Hispanics make up 17% of the U.S. population, but they remain vastly underrepresented in Congress, accounting for 7% of the members of the House of Representatives and 3% of the Senate. Only 56% of Hispanic green-card holders apply for U.S. citizenship, which means Hispanics have a lower voter participation rate (48%) than blacks or whites.
That's why each election season you see a large number of groups scrambling to get Hispanics to apply for citizenship and, eventually, register to vote.
On Monday, a high-profile group led by actress Eva Longoria and Democratic National Committee finance chairman Henry Munoz III launched the Latino Victory Project to do just that. Across the country, smaller groups are organizing citizenship and voter registration seminars to walk Hispanics through the complicated application process.
But there are a number of reasons Hispanics hesitate when thinking about applying to become citizens.
Some simply aren't sure they want to stay in the USA. George Cabrera, president of ASPIRA of Florida, a non-profit organization that helps young Hispanics receive education and leadership training, says many of the parents he encounters from Central and South America come here to work, raise their kids and save money. But eventually they want to go home
"It makes sense, because when you look at the financial difference, you can live like a millionaire there," he says.
Others can't afford the price of admission. With the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services charging $680 to apply - a process that can get far more costly for those who need an immigration attorney - the opportunity can become too expensive.
The biggest deterrent, however, is fear of the unknown.
Sajan Kurian is an Indian immigrant who studied at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. He worked as a CT scan technologist for decades and now works for Florida state Rep. Shervin Jones. Kurian held off on applying for citizenship for more than 20 years because he didn't know what would happen if his application was rejected.
"The fear factor was, 'What if? What if something goes wrong?'" he says.
That's why Kurian joined several South Florida groups Monday as they kicked off efforts to counsel the large Hispanic community here. The fear factor that Kurian experienced only increases for Hispanics, many of whom are related to undocumented immigrants or live with them.
Applying to become a citizen includes detailed questions about the family - parents, children, spouse, even previous spouses. Cabrera says it scares people to hand over to the government the vital details of loved ones they know are in the country illegally.
"They think that once they put their name and address of where they're at, (the government) is going to come and ship them back," he says.
Immigrants have different reasons for being here. Many from Brazil and Argentina want to invest their money here because of the uncertain business climate back home. Some from Venezuela and Cuba are fleeing political strife. Many Central Americans and Mexicans are running away from violent drug wars or simply want to provide a better future for their children.
But all of them forfeit their ability to reshape the country they're living in if they don't become citizens and can't vote. The 2014 elections could seriously alter the makeup of Congress and statehouses across the country. However daunting it can be to file for citizenship, it's the only way Hispanics can play a part as big as their numbers.
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Read the original story: Voices: Afraid to apply for citizenship