Illinois Democrats are backing an effort to encourage immigrants eligible for naturalization to become citizens and vote, though they say it's not meant to be a partisan effort. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) appeared alongside U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a Chicago event supporting the New American Democracy Campaign. It's not targeted at undocumented immigrants, but the estimated 300,000 people in Illinois that are already eligible to become naturalized citizens. The campaign aims to help them through the citizenship process so they can register to vote in this year's elections. Durbin said that assistance doesn't come with any expectation the new voters will support his party.
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"We are talking about naturalized citizens exercising their right to vote without any party instructions," Durbin said. "They make their own choices, but I feel confident of the choice they will make." A recent national ad by the group used quotes from Donald Trump regarding immigrants over images of smiling people, ending with the line "Our future is at stake....become a citizen today." One of the obstacles to naturalizing eligible immigrants, according to Durbin, is the filing fee that has to be included with their paperwork. "It's $680," Durbin said. "We've created an obstacle there which should be changed and I hope we can change, but in the meantime, many have stepped forward and said we will loan the money for the filing fee." Durbin said when his Lithuanian-born mother became a citizen, the filing fee was $2.50. Another obstacle is time, according to Gutierrez, who said the campaign will need to focus on getting people naturalized in the next three months to have some hope of completing the process before Election Day in November.