ATLANTA — Georgia's newest citizens can have a huge impact on how to shape the state, a new report shows.
The National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) released a report Tuesday revealing Georgia is now home to nearly 97,000 naturalized citizens since 2016, many of who say they are ready to vote this year.
Laura Campos, 24, makes up part of that statistic.
"I was really surprised to hear those numbers," she said. "I didn't know until this morning, that there was over 96,000 of us."
Campos is originally from Nicaragua and has lived in the United States since 2010. She began the naturalization process in 2020.
"It was quite expensive and really overwhelming," she recalled. "The application was really, really long with a lot of terms I didn't really understand. So overall, just overwhelming process, but I was thankful."
She started the process at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The public health emergency has delayed citizenship status for tens of thousands of people and she is part of the small portion of applicants who have come out on the other side of the process. Currently, there is an 18-month backlog in Georgia, with 23,533 applications on hold, according to NPNA. The national average processing delay is around 11 months.
"It was a relief [when I got my citizenship], mostly because I have felt like I’ve been a citizen of this country since I ever I arrived," Campos added. "So it's been really exciting to finally have that on paper to say, 'Hey, I am officially a part of this country.'"
Despite these obstacles, Georgia has become home to 96,469 naturalized citizens since 2016. About 75% of those new citizens are originally from Asia (39%) and the Americas (36%).
More than 54% of Georgia’s newly naturalized citizens are women and approximately 61% are younger than 45 years old.
Nicole Melaku is the Executive Director of NPNA and said this wave of new voters could shake up a state's political makeup.
"In places like Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Nevada, naturalized voters are going to be the electorate that determines like the future of the country in many ways," she said. "Georgia plays a role that really sets scores and tone for what's possible with deep investment in civic engagement, protecting voters rights, multilingual ballot access, and so there's so many ways that this state tells the story for what's possible for other places of the region."
The report shows the highest concentration of naturalized voters are picking the Atlanta, Sandy Springs, and Roswell metropolitan areas to live in.
"If there are counties where there are significant blocks of naturalized voters, they, of course, will play a role in deciding the future of the U.S. Senate and of course, the presidency as we march toward 2024," Melaku added.
Local organizations, including GALEO Impact Fund, are trying to drive voting efforts across county lines. Right now, Gwinnett County is still the only county requiring ballots to be available in other languages.
Jerry Gonzalez is the CEO of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) and said the group has hit the ground running when it comes to civic engagement.
"We're knocking on doors, we're having conversations with community members, we are registering people at festivals, we are making sure that we call voters, we text voters to make sure if they do have problems that they can reach out to us," he said. "We’re also providing voters with a way to build their ballots in both English and Spanish with information about the candidates in English and Spanish to make sure that they can make informed decisions on their voting processes.”
For perspective, the 2018 governor’s race was the closest in nearly 60 years. Gov. Brian Kemp won by a little more than 51,000 votes.
That's nearly the same margin of voters who supported Stacey Abrams in Gwinnett County.
"So the Latino electorate in Georgia is truly powerful, and it's also outperforming the national low voter participation rate," Gonzalez added. "So there's a lot going on in Georgia."
These local groups believe the recent number of naturalized voters could change those margins and possibly change election outcomes, especially if they are empowered to do so.
“If there are 96,000 people to engage, that has a definitive impact in the elections," he said. "When you think about the strong advocacy community here you have not only Latino-led organizations, you have a strong philanthropic community, you have strong AAPI serving organizations, you have a mayor's office of immigrant affairs in the City of Atlanta that's supporting this larger vision of inclusion. It really does tell a story about what's possible when you have strong organizations and infrastructure. And you have people who care about really reaching and engaging those communities."