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SAN JUAN, RGV – There has been a surge of activity this year among immigrants wishing to become U.S. citizens, La Unión del Pueblo Entero reports.

The non-profit, non-partisan, community group that assists colonia and low-income families has helped 446 immigrants become citizens so far this year. In the last few years the number has hovered around 300.

“There is definitely more interest in our community about becoming a citizen,” said Sonia Limas, a LUPE teacher who assists immigrants with civics classes. “This year, I have taught over 100 people. That is more than in previous years.”

Asked why there is more interest among immigrants, Limas said: “They are very excited to get the power to vote. They want to vote in the presidential election.”

Asked why they want to vote in the presidential election, Limas said: “All the anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican rhetoric they are hearing in the presidential campaign. This is the No. 1 reason.”

Limas made her comments during a citizen graduation ceremony hosted by LUPE in San Juan on Wednesday evening. One of her students was Maribel Nogoa of Weslaco. Tovar said she came to the United States when she was 26 years of age. Because she is over 50 years of age and because she has been a resident for more than 15 years, Nogoa was able to take the federal citizenship test in Spanish. She said this made it easier to pass the test.

“I am very excited to become a U.S. citizen. I have been waiting more than 30 years for this,” Nogoa said, speaking in Spanish. Asked if she would be voting in the November presidential election, Nogoa said: “Yes, I want to.” Asked why, she said: “I want to give power for our people, for our region.”

LUPE does not endorse political candidates or parties. However, it does advocate for its members. Tania Chavez said there is no question that anti-immigrant rhetoric by a certain presidential candidate is fueling interest among Latinos. However, Chavez did not mention Donald Trump by name. Trump has called Mexicans rapists and, in a major speech on immigration in Arizona in August, promised mass deportation of undocumented immigrants.

“Our members want to vote because they are angry about the separation of families, of mass deportations. We are talking about really anti-immigrant rhetoric from some of the presidential candidates. The Latino community has also been affected. The Latino community is ready to participate in the democratic process,” Chavez said.

“Testament to that is that over 450 people have come through our programs to acquire their U.S. citizenship this year. There is definitely more interest and what they are saying is, they are ready to go out and vote. They want to make sure we elect someone who is going to defend our immigrant community, our Latino community.”

Asked if the voices of the immigrant community were being heard this presidential election cycle, Chavez said: “We have a long road ahead of us but we have been preparing for many years for something like this. The Latino community is ready to stand up behind the rights of low-income families and immigrant families.”

At the citizenship ceremony. U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa was honored by LUPE for his many years of service assisting farm workers, colonia residents and low-income families. He is retiring at the end of the year.