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Latino youth from the West Suburban Action Project attended an immigrant voter rally Tuesday.

Disparate immigrant groups united in get-out-the-vote efforts

by Nadya Faulx
Oct 31, 2012


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Adela Maravilla, 44, immigrated to the U.S. 22 years ago.  She now mentors youth with the Southwest Orgnanizing Project, a partner of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.


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Tuesday's rally was part of final efforts to encourage immigrants to vote.

Nadya Faulx/MEDILL

Vincent Dee of the New Americans Democracy Project talks about why he votes.

The already razor-thin race between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney could hinge on the immigrant vote, with record numbers of newly naturalized citizens expected to turn out in next week’s election.

More than 26,000 immigrants were registered to vote this year, through the combined efforts of groups like the Arab American Action Network, the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and the Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment.

The United African Association held citizenship workshops and voter registration drives throughout the year, said executive director Alie Kaba, who is also the board president of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

“The UAO has been very active since beginning of the year, working with immigrants eligible to become citizens through our citizenship programs here,” he said. “It has been successful — everyone we’ve seen become citizens has registered to vote.”

In early October, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights turned in thousands of voter registration forms to the Cook County Clerk, demonstrating the strength the immigrant vote will yield in local, state and federal elections.

No longer relying on the tried-and-true tactics of phone banks and mailing campaigns, immigrant groups are getting creative with their voter outreach, said New Americans Democracy Project volunteer Vincent Dee.

“We went everywhere from calling people, concerts, collaborating with artists and clothing brands to get our message known,” he said.

The 24-year-old Bartlett resident is putting his Columbia College media degree to use with his Own the Vote campaign, which encourages young voters to engage with each other on Facebook and Instagram.

“I really try to utilize social media by, instead of just giving someone a t-shirt, I say, ‘Here’s a sticker, go stick it somewhere, and take a picture on Instagram,’” he said. “It’s to kind of spread the message more, social media-wise.”

Dee said many Asian immigrants don’t turn out to vote because of an “internalized Asian thing. … We grew up thinking, ‘me, me, how do I survive.’” To combat this reluctance, he works with the Asian American Institute and the Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment, whose “Rock the Balut” campaign is aimed at getting Filipino immigrants to the polls on Election Day.

Dee targets not just immigrants, but children of immigrants as well, who he says have an obligation to take advantage of their right to vote.

“If your parents came from the Philippines, you’re living their dream,” he said. “They had to fight for years to be a citizen, to be able to vote. Our voice has to be heard.”

According to 2009 U.S. Census data compiled by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Chicago is home to more than 588,000 immigrants, many of them from Mexico, Poland, China and the Philippines.

Despite diverse backgrounds, Kaba said a widespread concern among immigrant communities is immigration reform.

“Our concerns are similar to other immigrant populations — we have significant undocumented immigrants,” he said. “The issue of undocumented youth is really important to us. African immigrants experience difficulty in going to college because they do not have status.

“We are waiting for comprehensive immigration reform,” he said.

Newly naturalized citizens make up 10 percent of the voting population, according to the Immigration Policy Center. They comprise a relatively small but powerful contingency that will likely vote with the most immigrant-friendly party, said Kaba.

African immigrants will vote “based on a party platform that promotes inclusion for all,” he said, noting that “there has been an increase in leaning toward the Democratic Party.”

Immigrant and immigrant ally groups gathered Tuesday for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights' Get Out the Vote Rally, a last-minute push to encourage voter participation. Speaking at the event, Raul Magdaleno, assistant principal of Kelly High School in Brighton Park, said immigrants “will vote for those who stand with us, instead of against us.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), speaking at the same rally, urged the hundreds of attendees to "make certain we elect leaders who affirm the DREAM Act,” which he wrote.

He said voting is how immigrants become a part of America.

“That’s when people notice you are here, that’s when they stand up to respect you,” he said.

“This is our chance.”