White House officials announced the start of a nationwide campaign on Thursday to encourage legal immigrants to become American citizens, which could add millions of voters to the electorate in time for the presidential election next year.
With about 8.8 million legal residents in the country who are eligible to become citizens, White House officials said they were trying to make it easier to complete the final steps to citizenship.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency in charge of naturalizations, will offer practice tests on cellphones for the civics exam that immigrants must pass, but which many find daunting, and will hold preparatory workshops in rural areas. Applicants will also be able to pay the fee, still a hefty $680, with a credit card.
The White House is working with regional immigrant groups to organize more than 70 citizenship workshops and about 200 naturalization ceremonies in the coming week alone. Four citizenship ambassadors have been named, including Fernando Valenzuela, the Mexican-born former pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who recently became an American citizen after many years in the United States.
Also in the works are local initiatives to make immigrants feel more welcome, and a revision of Justice Department regulations that would make it easier for people who want to help immigrants naturalize to obtain credentials to provide basic volunteer legal assistance.
The officials said they had started the campaign this week because Thursday is Citizenship Day. But the White House is also aware of federal figures showing that about 60 percent of immigrants eligible to naturalize are Latino and about 20 percent are Asian, both groups that voted overwhelmingly for President Obama. Nearly a third of legal permanent residents eligible to naturalize are Mexican.
The campaign, which includes a blitz of television ads with a welcoming message for immigrants, gives Mr. Obama a chance to set up a contrast with Republicans vying to succeed him. In the Republican debate on Wednesday night, Donald J. Trump, the real estate magnate who has been leading the polls among the Republican candidates, returned to his hard-line proposals that include building a wall along the length of the southern border.
SOURCE: JULIA PRESTON
The New York Times