Some of the most important races of the entire 2022 election are in Pennsylvania, including the U.S. Senate race between Democratic lieutenant governor John Fetterman and long-time New Jersey resident and diet pill huckster Mehmet Oz. New data shows that tens of thousands of newly naturalized citizens in the state are eligible to vote in time for this race, and could be critical in other races as well.
This potential voting bloc of new Americans numbers more than 85,000, a coalition of local and national organizations said this week. In a testament to what a critical role these potential voters could play, President Biden’s margin of victory in the 2020 race was just over 80,000.
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But Make The Road, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC), SEIU 32BJ, the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California San Diego said new Americans have faced a host of issues preventing them from voting, some quite intentional.
With Election Day just under two weeks away, groups are working to ensure that everyone eligible to vote can actually cast a ballot.
“Voter suppression and other systemic barriers keep many eligible New American Voters from exercising that right,” they said. “Growing backlogs at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have created delays in processing citizenship applications,” noting over 20,000 pending applications with delays of up to 14 months at USCIS’ offices in Pennsylvania. “Access issues related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and language barriers have prevented many eligible voters from registering,” organizations further noted.
The previous administration used the pandemic as an excuse to block immigrants from completing the naturalization process, canceling oaths, or not scheduling them at all. USCIS had steadily refused to conduct virtual oaths, even though it had every ability to do so. Immigrants were then forced to file a class-action lawsuit.
Now, “Pennsylvania-based organizations are joining the New American Voters 2022 Campaign, a non-partisan nationwide effort coordinated by the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) to encourage newly naturalized citizens to register and vote,” a release said.
It’s a particularly crucial campaign. ”Pennsylvania ranks 4th in the nation according to the New American Voters Impact Model, which showcases the potential of this critical voting bloc to influence the outcome of midterm elections in 50 states.” Per the release, nearly half of the newly naturalized Americans are from Asia, 27% from the Americas, 15% from the African continent, and 13% from Europe. Among the new Americans is Make the Road Pennsylvania member Milagros Castillo. She’s set to vote next month and said she was “very excited.”
“I became a citizen only 4 months ago,” she said. “I couldn’t do it sooner because of the discrimination and language barriers that exist in this country for people of color like myself.” NPAA last year announced a campaign to naturalize two million eligible immigrants by the end of 2022. NPNA said at that time that more than 9 million green card holders (others say nearly 10 million) could be eligible for U.S. citizenship, but many are blocked by barriers like expensive fees and a lack of information.
“Growing up, he would always take me to the polling place with him and my parents conveyed to me the importance for all, including new Americans, to participate in our nation’s democracy,” said Andy Kang, PICC executive director. “That is why I’m proud that PICC has had a long history of registering to vote newly sworn-in citizens, and we will continue to do all we can to spread the message that Pennsylvania—and America—needs immigrants to vote and help us strengthen our democracy.”
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