By Kyung Lah and Alberto Moya
PHILADELPHIA (CNN) –Natalia Pérez woke up on November 9 and logged onto her computer and clicked on a link for “Application for Certificate of Citizenship”
Her gut tied itself in knots, as she wondered about the next four years with President-elect Donald Trump: How will people view me? What will change legally for me? How will life change for my half-Mexican, half-Jewish child?
Pérez realized her post-election day fears might not be reasonable, especially given her years-long status as a legal US resident. Pérez came to the US in 2002 as a student, earned her PhD from Princeton University, and teaches Renaissance literature at the University of Southern California as an assistant professor. Married to an American, Pérez never worried about what she once considered the marginal difference between being a legal US resident versus a US citizen.
But Trump’s election has changed the way she thinks about things.
“I’ve been so nervous and frightened since,” Pérez told CNN in a recent interview. Filling out her citizenship application, she adds, “This is my insurance policy. I need to do something to change my legal status, to make sure, that not just me, but my family, is protected.”
That fear is driving legal US citizens across the country to act. Figures from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services show 718,430 applications were filed from October 2015 — June 2016. That’s a 25% increase compared to the year prior. USCIS has not released data since June 2016. Pérez’s husband, Sam Steinberg, who is also a USC assistant professor, doesn’t trust Trump’s words.
“We have someone who’s shown himself to be unpredictable, who is about to take the Presidency,” Steinberg said, saying citizenship for his wife is simply, protection. “He’s making threats against me, and people like me, and people like my family. It would be silly not to be afraid. It would be irresponsible to not be afraid of what he could do or what he might do.”
Trump has had a particularly contentious relationship with Mexican Americans, drawing scrutiny for remarks he made launching his campaign in June 2015 calling some undocumented immigrants along the US southern border “rapists.”
Trump’s election has had a direct impact on the Loyola Law School’s Immigrant Justice Clinic, flooding their offices with requests. The community-based immigration clinic in Los Angeles helps immigrants with the naturalization and citizenship process.
“The demand is insatiable,” says Emily Robinson, the co-founder of the clinic. “It has tripled our demand for our services. And that’s only the people we can answer the phone calls for. There are people we just can’t meet with.”
What legal residents are seeking is a sense of relief that Maria Ivette Diaz, an immigrant from Mexico, shared as she was sworn in as a new US citizen at her naturalization ceremony in Chicago.
“Right now, it’s just a relief for me, because of all the comments that our President-elect has made. I just feel safe now,” said Diaz, beaming as she took photos at the ceremony. She added, “I’m going to make sure I vote, every election. I’m gonna make sure I count.”
Natalia Pérez, with her education, marital and job status, anticipates a smooth process towards her own citizenship. But if she is feeling fear in Trump’s America, she wonders, how are other immigrants feeling who reside in the US without her safety net?
“Though I’m not feeling unwelcome in my immediate community, the larger community that is the United States, I am feeling a little bit unwelcome. That I am Mexican, that I am a woman, that I am an immigrant. And that’s all I’ll be. That there are people who will not look past that.”
The-CNN-Wire ™ & © 2016 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.