Nevadans Double Down on Citizenship
Posted May 2016
On a recent Saturday in April, more than 500 immigrants gathered at a Las Vegas high school. The atmosphere was one of excitement, motivation, and pride—attendees began lining up at 5 a.m. for entry to the event, a workshop fair helping eligible immigrants apply for U.S. citizenship. American flags adorned walls, tables, and t-shirts, and volunteers smiled as they sorted through stacks of paper.
The event was hosted by the Culinary Workers Union, a private sector local union in Nevada with nearly 60,000 members. Local 226 represents the union’s Las Vegas workers. These are the unrecognized kitchen staff, housekeepers, waiters, bartenders, janitors, bussers, bartenders, and others who enable the Strip’s iconic hotels and grand restaurants to operate each day.
The 2016 election cycle has ignited a wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric among candidates and their supporters—the consequences of which could reverberate for years. But the vitriol has sparked something different in immigrant communities across the country: a fervor to naturalize all eligible immigrants in time to cast votes in this year’s elections.
Without citizenship, these workers and their families are susceptible to exploitation and unable to protect themselves. Through the Culinary Workers Union, and in partnership with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, nearly 2,000 immigrants have already completed and submitted applications to become U.S. citizens this year. For new citizens, especially those in the swing state of Nevada, it’s an opportunity to participate in an election that could have a deep impact on their lives and generations to come.
“When we go door to door and talk to all these workers, we see the need for immigration reform,” said Nereyda Soto, a union volunteer. “We see the need for citizenship. That is the root of why we’re doing this.”
Volunteers came from as far as Washington, D.C., to guide immigrants through the application process at no cost, offering a safe space to ask questions and get tools and resources to study for English language and U.S. civics exams.
“I feel proud and honored to be a part of this,” said volunteer Emmanuel Gallardo Sanidad. “It’s historic.”