Univision's voter drive

Since January, KMEX here has been blanketing its Spanish-language audience with encouragement for green card holders who are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. Now the project is going nationwide and today's Wall Street Journal calls it "a massive campaign by Latino media and grass-roots groups to spur millions of eligible Hispanic residents to become U.S. citizens...that could influence the agenda and outcome of the 2008 election." From the front-page WSJ story:

The citizenship drive began in January, when Univision's largest station -- Los Angeles's KMEX 34 -- began bombarding Southern California airwaves with a campaign designed to steer eligible viewers to become U.S. citizens.

The impact was immediate: In Los Angeles and surrounding counties, the number of citizenship applications filed to the U.S. government more than doubled for the three months ended March 2007 compared with the same period last year. It typically takes six or seven months for green-card holders to complete the citizenship process....

It is difficult to overstate how much firepower Univision is putting behind the effort. With a catchy slogan, "Ya Es Hora" ("It's About Time"), the campaign in L.A. has been integrated into every local newscast, in addition to being flogged in public-service announcements throughout the day.

During news shows, anchors pop questions from the civics test that applicants for citizenship are required to pass, such as "How many stars are on the U.S. flag?" Against a backdrop of stars soaring through the U.S. flag and the Statue of Liberty, a ticker counts down, from a goal of one million for the L.A. area, the number of persons who have applied for citizenship since the campaign started in Southern California. On Saturday mornings, a 30-minute program is devoted to teaching viewers the ABCs of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Last Friday, anchor Raúl Peimbert broadcast live three times during the 6 p.m. news from a square in downtown Los Angeles, where hundreds of Hispanics had been lining up since dawn to fill out an N-400 -- the naturalization form for green-card holders seeking to become U.S. citizens.

"We congratulate you on taking this important step," Mr. Peimbert told an 80-year-old woman in the crowd. "Young and old, everybody should [apply for citizenship] as soon as possible to have a say over the future of this country," he said on the air. For those who didn't make it, Univision flashed the hotline number where volunteers are on hand daily to help fill out applications over the phone.

The citizenship drive is the brainchild of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, a nonpartisan outreach group known as Naleo. Last year, Naleo officials gathered representatives from Univision, Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión, Spanish-language radio, unions and dozens of community groups to hatch a plan for drawing more Hispanics into the U.S. political process.

The result is the largest campaign ever to convert eligible Hispanics into citizens and, ultimately, voters.

Pedro Rojas, executive editor of La Opinión, says in the piece that "Our job is not to just deliver the news; we are dealing with immigrants who need to be taught about their rights."

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