Outreach campaign targets voting power of new citizens - Albuquerque Journal

Outreach campaign targets voting power of new citizens

Dora Eguino, left, from Española, and Lorena Gonzalez, right, participate in a rally Tuesday in the Roundhouse to promote voter turnout among new citizens. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

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SANTA FE – A new campaign aims to boost voter participation among the 18,000 immigrants who have gained citizenship in New Mexico since 2016, describing them as a key voting block ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.

The effort targets newly naturalized citizens throughout New Mexico – including in rural parts of the state and the oil patch – to encourage voter registration and turnout.

It’s a diverse group of people, supporters said, who often participate in elections at lower rates due to language barriers or unfamiliarity with voting for the first time.

“These are communities often left out of traditional voter outreach,” said Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an immigrant and workers’ rights advocacy group and sister organization to a group participating in the campaign.

About 40 people celebrated at the Roundhouse on Tuesday as supporters announced the launch of the New American Voters Campaign in New Mexico and the release of a report outlining the demographic characteristics of the potential voting block.

Participating in the campaign are three local advocacy groups – Somos Acción, NM CAFé and El Centro Poder y Acción – and three national organizations: the Service Employees International Union; U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California, San Diego; and National Partnership for New Americans, a coalition of immigrant and refugee rights groups.

Nicole Melaku, executive director of the National Partnership, which is coordinating similar efforts nationwide, said New Mexico has a relatively large group of new citizens who could be a force in the upcoming election.

The campaign is nonpartisan, she said, and isn’t urging newly eligible voters to support any particular candidate. But the group of potential voters, Melaku said, is likely to have particular interest in immigration policies.

“These are people who have the same concerns as every voter – the economy, school safety, access to health care, access to opportunity,” she said in an interview.

The campaign comes as New Mexico voters prepare to choose a governor, fill 70 legislative seats and pick three members of the U.S. House. The race in the newly redrawn 2nd Congressional District is a potential tipping point seat in determining whether Republicans or Democrats win a House majority, according to national analysts.

With absentee and limited in-person voting underway, both parties have launched door-knocking campaigns, phone banks and other efforts to get their supporters to cast a ballot.

Maria de Jesus Gallardo, from Hobbs, and about 40 others celebrate the New American Voters Campaign at the Roundhouse on Tuesday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

In New Mexico, about 63% of the people who completed the citizenship process from 2016 to 2020 are from Mexico, according to Tuesday’s report. About 18% are from Asia, with significant numbers from Vietnam, India and China.

More than half are 18 to 45 years old – “a young electorate of diverse backgrounds,” Melaku said.

New Mexico offers same-day voter registration, meaning eligible adults can register and immediately cast a ballot at the polls.

Permanent legal residents who aren’t citizens cannot vote. But citizens who reside in New Mexico and are at least 18 by Election Day are generally allowed to vote, with some exceptions for felons who haven’t completed their sentence.

For foreign-born citizens, supporters said, voting the first time can be overwhelming, especially if there’s a language barrier or unfamiliar polling locations.

About one in 10 voters nationwide is a naturalized citizen, Melaku said, and there’s some evidence new citizens “are a little less likely to turn out to the polls” than other demographic groups.

Of all naturalized residents – not just those who recently gained citizenship – Albuquerque is home to about 35,000 of them, Las Cruces has 18,000 and Santa Fe a little less than 8,000, according to Tuesday’s report.

The campaign underway in New Mexico and elsewhere will focus on helping the new voters overcome whatever barriers they face to participating, such as securing time off work or getting a ride to the polls.

“Collectively, our voice is powerful in New Mexico,” said Fabiola Landeros, an Albuquerque mom who became a citizen in 2019 and works as an organizer for El Centro Poder y Acción.

Santa Fe resident Mario Vázquez of Somos Acción – who spoke in Spanish with his words translated by an interpreter – said the report shows new citizens “can be the margin of victory” in some races.

He became a citizen in August, he said, and will cast a vote for the first time this year.

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