Immigrant Advocacy Groups Work to ‘Get Out the Vote’

Gonzalo Mercado

Gonzalo Mercado, Executive Director of the El Centro Community Center on Staten Island, spoke at a ‘Get Out The Vote’ event at the NY Immigration Coalition on October 18. (Photo: Sarah Kate Kramer)

NEW YORK–As Election Day draws closer, immigrant advocacy groups are ramping up their “get out the vote” campaigns.

Part of that effort is encouraging new citizens to represent those who can’t vote at the polls. Juan Carlos Perez, of the organization New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), in Queens, says even though the thousands of undocumented immigrants living in the city can’t cast ballots, they’ll still influence the elections by educating their neighbors about politics.

“We target Latino voters in the area,” Perez said. “So they go out to them, they speak to them, explain to them what the issues are, and how important it is for them to go out and vote.”

[audio: juancarlosperez.mp3]

Perez’s organization is part of a statewide campaign, organized by the New York Immigration Coalition, to bring 20,000 new immigrant voters to the polls. Immigrants and their children account for more than 17 percent of the registered voters in New York State.

Gonzalo Mercado, Executive Director of El Centro, a community center on Staten Island, says one reason immigrant groups historically have low-turnout in elections is because many need basic education about how to participate in the political process.

“Many of the immigrants that we have on Staten Island, or in any parts of the country, in many cases don’t know or haven’t seen democracy in action,” he said.

Mercado added that the recent spate of bias crimes on Staten Island this year has motivated immigrant groups to be more engaged in the political process and address negative stereotypes. He’s hoping that increased immigrant participation in the electoral process will result in more awareness to immigrant issues like healthcare, affordable housing, and of course, immigration reform.

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Feet in Two Worlds New York Election coverage is supported, in part, by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.