Fadhylla Saballos can’t vote in the presidential election—which is why this campaign scares the shit out of her.
With the GOP’s leading candidate referring to Mexicans as killers and rapists, she has reason to worry. As a legal resident, Saballos, 27, is not eligible to cast a ballot for president. She hadn’t been in a hurry to become a U.S. citizen, but the xenophobic climate of the campaign has motivated her to apply for citizenship so she can vote in November.
“Immigrants work so hard for so little and for [Donald Trump] to disrespect the hard work we all do is really shameful,” she said during a conversation in East Harlem, where she works part-time as an after-school nutrition instructor at Public School 50. “He’s built entire industries—and failed—off immigrants’ backs. His rhetoric just makes me angry because I know my dad sacrificed a lot to get me here. My mom sacrificed a lot to get me here.”
Saballos, who is originally from Nicaragua, is one of the record 27.3 million Latinos who will be citizens in time to vote in this year's elections. Nearly half of them will be millennials, like Saballos. A spokesperson for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services told Fusion that it received 61,976 applications for citizenship and 56,469 people took citizenship oaths in January, according to the agency’s preliminary data.
Since September, the White House has led a naturalization campaign that encourages legal residents to apply for U.S. citizenship in an effort to get them to the ballot box. Federal data reveals 60 percent of the 8.8 million legal residents eligible to naturalize are Latinos, a group that usually supports the Democratic Party and backed Obama overwhelmingly during the 2008 and 2012 elections.
“Latinos and immigrants, in general, have tended to lean towards the Democratic Party precisely because of the climate being increasingly anti-immigrant and anti-foreign,” said Carlos Vargas-Ramos, a research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College who specializes in Latino voting patterns.
Saballos told me she was initially hesitant to apply for U.S. citizenship because she wanted to hold on to her Nicaraguan roots. Not to mention, the process is pretty lengthy. But rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States made her realize she can’t afford not to vote in 2016.
“That’s what really pushed me,” Saballos said. “The fact that I [didn’t vote] last time and felt really nervous about Obama not getting elected. This time around, it’s just a completely different game.”
Saballos is a tad frustrated with herself for not starting the citizenship process sooner because she wanted to vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders in New York’s primary on Tuesday. Instead, she will be at a local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office submitting her fingerprints for what will be a months-long application process she hopes will be completed by November.
For now, she is supporting Sanders by canvassing for the campaign in her adoptive Brooklyn. And she’s finding that her ineligibility to vote is her top selling point with many potential voters. While going door-to-door in an apartment building in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, one recent Saturday morning, I observed her draw from her immigrant experience when speaking with undecided residents.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly described how many immigrants have applied for citizenship in 2016.
Terrell Jermaine Starr is National Political Correspondent for Fusion. You can follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.