Chicago Sun-Times - May 30, 2004
New citizens recruited to vote
BY Ana Mendieta
In the race to fill voting booths in November, volunteers are turning to new Americans eager to test the privileges of their citizenship.
Since January, more than 5,600 brand-new U.S. citizens have joined voter registration rolls in Cook, Lake and DuPage counties as part of the New Americans Vote '04 Campaign, organized by the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The campaign is part of a national get-out-the-vote initiative launched by the Center for Community Change, which will spend $2 million to register 400,000 new voters in 15 states, including Illinois.
"Before, I thought our votes were not that important," said Mayra Jovel, who became a U.S. citizen two years ago and registered to vote along with a dozen other new Americans shopping for groceries Friday at Delray Farms in the Uptown neighborhood.
"Now I want to have the right to elect a president, and citizens are more valued than legal residents,'' said Jovel, a 42-year-old accountant from Mexico who lives in Edgewater with her husband and three daughters.
Jovel joins a growing movement of new American citizens rushing to register to vote before Election Day. Last weekend, 50 people registered to vote in just two hours during a health fair at the Howard Area Community Center in Rogers Park. "Those are excellent results because normally you can get five registrations per hour, but people were really receptive,'' said community organizer Jamiko Rose, who registered Jovel at Delray Farms.
With more than a hundred volunteers, the New Americans Vote '04 Campaign plans to add at least 20,000 more people in the Chicago area to the voter registration rolls by Election Day, organizers said.
Seventy percent of those sworn in at citizenship ceremonies in the Chicago area since January 2004 have registered to vote, said Marissa May Graciosa, spokeswoman for the coalition.
"We protest and march in rallies, but one thing we have not done is move people to vote. We know that those who are in power will have to court those votes and respond to their concerns,'' said Gabriel Gutierrez, director of organizing for the coalition.
Naturalized American citizens are 35 percent less likely to be registered to vote than native-born citizens, according to a 1999 U.S. census report that examined the 1996 presidential elections.
Organizers hope to improve those numbers by focusing on new citizens, many of whom want the government to award legal status to illegal immigrants and to restore the civil liberties they feel were curtailed after the Sept. 11 attacks, particularly in the Muslim community. ….