Naturalized U.S citizens will make up 10% of the voting population in the 2020 election. Yet, historically, these new citizens have been less likely to vote than those who were born here. Some may be hampered by socioeconomic considerations that will make it difficult for them to turn out at the polls on election day. Others may be intimidated by anti-immigrant rhetoric, or believe their vote will not count. Still others may be unaware of the registration process or how to cast a ballot safely this year.
Complicating matters further, COVID-19 has contributed to even longer backlogs in naturalization applications being processed and inordinate delays in the scheduling of naturalization oath ceremonies for those who have been approved for U.S. citizenship.
Yet this is one of the most significant elections of our lifetimes, one that will determine the course and fate of our democracy itself, and one that could determinatively alter – for better or for much, much worse – the fate and circumstances of immigrants and of their families, friends, employers and communities.
That’s why I am doing everything I can to urge every new citizen I know not to yield their awesome responsibility and power but to get out and vote in large numbers and make their voices heard in shaping the forward movement of our nation. No, I’m not advocating for any particular candidate, but I am advising them to use the right they’ve been granted, and the obligation they’ve assumed as Americans and vote.
I have one client who just took his oath of citizenship a few weeks ago and has already arranged to cast his ballot by mail. Another client contacted me recently, a naturalized U.S. citizen who filed an immigrant petition for her sister that was recently denied after many years for alleged failure to respond to a Request for Evidence that she never received. I made sure to remind her that one way – maybe the most important way – to hold this administration accountable is for those who are directly impacted by its injustices to vote.
I urge all of you to have these conversations with your clients and with the immigrants in your community. To help you, AILA developed a new flyer you can customize and share with clients that explains who is eligible to vote and how to vote in this year’s election. I am also supporting the Immigrants’ List Civic campaign to get out the vote in the immigrant community and to remind people, particularly in swing states, of the power of their vote. There are countless other ways you can get involved in your communities. However you choose to do it, I hope you will use your voice to encourage and inspire your clients and others in your communities to make their voices heard this year.
Immigrants are among the most patriotic of Americans. After all, they didn’t acquire U.S. citizenship by birth; they picked up their whole lives, moved to a new land, and they actively chose to become citizens of this country. Many of them know first-hand how valuable and how fragile our democratic institutions are because they have lived through democratic collapse and authoritarian rule in their home countries.
By contrast, it’s sometimes easy for native born Americans to take for granted our rights and responsibilities as citizens and to forget how important the individual franchise is to the sustainability of the democracy. My one vote feels small but combined with many it makes a difference. On the local level, I’m having an impact on school boards and mayors. At the state level, I’m choosing who represents me in the Virginia legislature. And on the national level it will be my voice being tallied with so many others to determine who heads to the Senate, the House of Representatives, and presidency.
As an immigration attorney and a volunteer leader with AILA I know that this administration’s policies have touched families, businesses, hospitals, universities, communities in every corner of our nation.
I’m not telling my clients how to vote, but I am making darn sure they remember the capacity they have to reshape their future, to decide who will have the power to use the stroke of a pen, or the bully pulpit to effect change. One vote seems so small but together we’re building a tidal wave.