PHOENIX – Mexican immigrant Blanca Lorena Puente loves the United States, so much so that she is applying for citizenship in order to participate in the election process.
She is among a group of Arizona Latino immigrants who say they are taking action to fight discrimination by becoming citizens and voting.
Puente was one of about 120 lawful permanent residents who applied for citizenship at a fair in Phoenix recently. The event, hosted by the Arizona chapter of the national nonprofit Mi Familia Vota, may help stem a trend in low Latino voter turnout.
Nationally, in the 2014 midterm election, only 27 percent of Latino voters voted, according to the Pew Research Center.
The center reports that since 2012, “Hispanics, blacks, Asians and other minorities had a net increase of 7.5 million eligible voters, compared with a net increase of 3.2 million among non-Hispanic white eligible voters.” The center found that 26 percent of new Hispanic eligible voters are naturalized citizens.
“[When] more Latinos start becoming U.S. citizens, elected officials have to listen to our values because we’re going to hold them accountable,” said Eduardo Sainz, deputy director of Mi Familia Vota Arizona. He said the nonprofit’s mission is to “ensure Latinos and immigrants work toward social and economic injustice” through voter registration, voter participation events and citizenship fairs.
“The Hispanic community, I believe, does not feel like they’re well represented,” said Nancy Herrera, Mi Familia Vota Arizona state coordinator. “That’s why they want to become U.S. citizens, so they can get out and vote so their voice can be heard, so they can elect officials…that have the same ideas that they do.”
Herrera became a citizen in 2012.
“I wasted no time because I know how important it is,” she said. “We need to be able to exercise all our rights and becoming a U.S. citizen, I feel like that completes me.”
Herrera said many of her friends come to voter registration events to acknowledge the importance of citizenship within their community because they want their votes to battle discrimination and racial profiling of Latino immigrants.
Dora Rogers, 88, was born in Tamaulipas, Mexico and came to the United States when she was 65 years old to help support her family. She said in Spanish she wanted to register to vote to battle discrimination and support immigration reform. “They ask us for papers when we are already citizens,” she said.
“We do not come to cause harm. We come to work, to fight, to seek daily bread,” she said.
Both Rogers and Puente support Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I want to share this with Donald Trump,” Puente said.
“I want to be in front of him to tell him that our Hispanic people, our Mexican people, are people of peace, are people of love, are people of family, are people who open their doors to receive everyone,” she said.