On Wednesday morning, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) addressed the House of Representatives and called on the over eight million immigrants who are eligible to become citizens and vote in this year’s elections. He also called on his fellow congressmen not to engage in voter suppression tactics and to make it easier for people to vote in their own districts.
February 24, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I am not here to give a political speech. This is not the right venue for that. But I would like to share some observations I have after visiting Nevada last week.
The first observation is that among a broad and diverse segment of voters, there is a great deal of excitement about the political process. It almost doesn’t matter which candidate people prefer or even which party — there is so much enthusiasm to participate.
In Nevada, the form of participation is the caucus and it requires a greater time commitment than simply punching a ballot at your local precinct. Yet, I witnessed thousands of people who were taking hours away from their jobs — at their own expense — to participate in the process. You cannot come away from that kind of activity and not be inspired that Americans are taking their right to voice their opinions about who should be the nominee of their party or the next president very seriously. It was remarkable.
Still, there were some people I spoke with who could not afford to take hours away from their jobs — some because they couldn’t get permission, and others because they simply could not afford to give up a couple of hours of wages. Even when it means not having your vote count. Las Vegas — where I was — is a 24/7 working city, and for many, a Saturday is the busiest work day of the week — especially for tips.
This election year, as we travel around our own districts or campaign in other states, I hope my colleagues in both parties will really examine how local governments and states are facilitating or disenfranchising American citizens who are eligible to vote. In Nevada, participation in a caucus at a set time of day with little or no flexibility serves almost like a poll tax for hourly workers. Voters had to weigh the power of their vote against the dollars that would not be in their pockets if they exercised it.
If you can vote, you should vote, and we should make sure the laws of our nation and our communities encourage rather than discourage the participation of every eligible citizen.
Another striking observation I made over the weekend was the diversity of the American electorate. Women and men, straight and gay, U.S.-born and naturalized, old and young, working-class, retired, students, military, and executives — Nevada put on display just how much progress our nation has made in just a few decades. I saw the energy and the determination of new voters. Voters who are newly 18; who are newly citizens; or who are newly engaged in the political process.
Everywhere I have travelled, including the high schools in my district in Illinois, I see 17- and 18-year-old Latinos anxious and eager to participate. They are motivated to register and vote, not just because they have been inspired by a candidate they support, but many have been inspired to vote against a candidate they do not support.
Today, tomorrow, and every day for decades, about 2,000 US-born Latino citizens will turn 18 and be eligible to vote. Every day. And they are eager to get involved.
There is a similar energy in the people I meet who are applying for citizenship. There are over eight million immigrants with green cards who are eligible to apply for citizenship right now. And with fee waivers for those with limited funds, many of them can apply for free. And they are applying in droves.
On Saturday, I will be at a workshop in Denver for people learning about the process and applying for citizenship. A coalition of groups led by the National Partnership for New Americans — but also encompassing Mi Familia Vota, a range of labor unions, and advocacy groups large and small across 30 states — have invited me to participate in this non-partisan activity to promote civic engagement and citizenship in immigrant communities. Their goal is to help one million eligible immigrants become citizens so that they can vote in primaries and elections this year and take their place at America’s table.
In communities like Denver and Chicago, there is a hunger for citizenship, despite all the barriers, despite the costs, and despite the anti-immigrant tone coming from our TVs and candidates. In fact, it is the anti-immigrant tone that people tell me — over and over — is what is motivating them to apply, study for the tests and better their English. It is that energy that gives me great confidence in our nation and the direction our nation is heading this year.
Immigrants are part of a growing coalition: of working-class voters, women, straight people and LGBT people, environmentalists, Latinos, Asians, black, white, old and young, Muslim and Christian, Jewish and agnostic; they are coming together and mobilizing. Together, even as some politicians push them away and try to divide us with suspicions of our fellow Americans, together, their diversity and dedication to democracy is a beautiful thing to witness.