Thursday, June 14, 2007

Univision Pushes Viewers to Citizenship

06/14: AOL News: Univision Pushes Viewers to Citizenship

Univision Pushes Viewers to Citizenship
c The Associated Press FULLERTON, Calif. (AP) - Maria Elena Castillo let her voice go unheard in American politics for a decade because she was afraid of failing the U.S. citizenship test that could give her the right to vote.

The Mexico native was finally convinced to give it a try by a massive citizenship campaign on Univision, the Spanish-language television giant better known for its newscasts and torrid telenovelas.

``I didn't want to do it, but all the things I saw on Univision convinced me,'' said Castillo, 37. She and her husband recently applied for citizenship at an immigration center where Univision was broadcasting live.``We need to be part of this country,'' she added.

Univision officials believe helping eligible immigrants become citizens can help Hispanics realize their significant voting power.

Of the 8 million legal permanent residents eligible to apply, the majority come from Latin American countries, according to federal immigration data.

With a few exceptions, immigrants must be legal residents for at least five years before applying for citizenship, a process that usually takes about six months and involves civics, English tests and fees.

The ``Ya Es Hora'' (``Now is the time'') campaign started in Los Angeles in January. It's now in a dozen cities with large Hispanic populations, such as Houston and Miami, and is coming soon to New York.

Public-service announcements throughout the day give viewers details on application requirements, locations and costs. Reporters quiz viewers on the citizenship exam, asking for example, what are the three branches of government.

On Fridays, Univision broadcasts live from a citizenship drive location, where volunteers charge $25 to help with lengthy applications.

``How do you think this will change your life?'' a Univision reporter asked Perla Guizar, a Mexican green card holder, during an interview in Los Angeles.

``Immigration agents will treat me better when I come into the country,'' said Guizar, who often travels to Tijuana to visit her mother.

One applicant at a location in Fullerton, Calif., last week said she had been meaning to apply for years, but the Univision campaign finally pushed her to do it.

``All that I've seen on television has shown me we need to vote, and we need to be electing the people who are going to be representing us,'' said Patricia Hernandez, 38, who moved from Mexico 20 years ago.

Hispanics have traditionally voted in low numbers for several reasons: Many are too young to vote or are not U.S. citizens, and others are wary of politics because of corrupt elections and governments in their native countries.

Univision is one of the most watched networks in America, often attracting more viewers than English-language counterparts in major cities. The citizenship campaign has help from other organizations, including Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion, the Service Employees International Union, and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, known as Naleo.

Major news organizations traditionally do not take sides in community issues, but Spanish-language audiences often expect their media outlets to be advocates for them, said Dante Chinni, a senior researcher at the Washington, D.C.-based Project for Excellence in Journalism.

``If you watch Univision broadcast, there is literally an us-versus-them tone,'' Chinni said.

``It's part of the strategy of how they reach their audience.''Univision President Ray Rodriguez said the network's activist role is ethical because the campaign was nonpartisan.``I think we are fairly pure as journalists,'' Rodriguez said.

``For us, there is not one negative thing about helping people who should be voting.''

Though it's impossible to pinpoint exactly what pushes eligible immigrants to apply for citizenship, applications have skyrocketed in recent months. Between January and April, there were 404,448 applications compared with 251,428 during the same period last year, according to federal immigration data.

Immigrant and Hispanic advocacy groups believe Univision is playing a big role.

Marcelo Gaete, senior director of programs for Naleo, said his organization has fielded about 15,000 calls from people wanting more information about the campaign they saw on Univision.

``Smart politicians will try to figure out what all these potential new voters mean for their campaigns,'' Gaete said.

On the Net:``Ya Es Hora'' campaign: 14:04 EDT

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