Gov. Andrew Cuomo today rolled out an array of programs aimed at helping immigrants residing in New York to become citizens—which he vowed would change the demographics and politics of the Empire State.
The governor unveiled his new NaturalizeNY agenda at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan this afternoon, and claimed the package of joint public-private initiatives would lubricate the process of becoming a full-fledged American for as many as one million green card-holders across the state. NaturalizeNY will offer eligibility screenings, preparatory courses for the citizenship exam,help completing forms and run a lottery that would pay the $680 federal fee for 2,000 randomly chosen lower-middle-income immigrants.
“Just think about that. Just think about how it would change the state. Change the complexion of the state. One million people added to the 18 million people who are now citizens in the state of New York,” the governor said, alluding to the state’s long history as the entryway to America for new arrivals from foreign lands. “Maybe the complexion changes. Maybe the religion changes. Maybe the accent changes. But the lesson stays the same. Welcome to this beautiful state of New York.”
The governor insisted that access to the voting booth is an integral benefit of citizenship, and suggested conservative lawmakers have deliberately inserted unnecessary hurdles into the process.
“You add one million citizens to the voting rolls in this state, that’s a significant, significant difference. You do that nationwide, it’s a significant difference,” he said. “So if you have your conspiracy hat on, you’d say some people would say they have kept it purposely difficult to become a citizen.”
In particular he targeted the $680 surcharge, slightly misquoting a line from Emma Lazarus’s “New Colossus”—the sonnet inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
“‘Give me your poor.’ It didn’t say ‘give me your poor who can afford a $680 citizenship,'” he insisted. “If I had my way it would be free. If I had my way the state would subsidize every eligible application, period. Because it would b e an investment for this state that would pay dividends..
The Democratic governor, an avid support of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, also took time to again lash out at the nativism of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump. He did not mention the businessman, a fellow Queens native, by name but did allude to his signature proposal to construct a massive barrier along the Mexican border.
“We know you can’t build walls between us. That is not an option,” he said. “You don’t build walls, you build bridges between people.”
Oddly, Trump has donated some $64,000 to Cuomo’s various campaigns for public office, which the governor has declined to return. The real estate developer also teased that he might challenge the governor in his 2014 re-election campaign, but decided against it.
New York is a historically blue state in presidential and gubernatorial election years, though Republicans from predominantly white areas of upstate and Long Island have often controlled the State Senate. Many of those areas also send GOP representatives to Congress.
As of the 2010 census, non-Hispanic whites made up roughly 58 percent of the state’s population, with blacks composing 16 percent, Asians 7 percent and Latinos almost 18 percent.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, publisher of Observer Media.