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Last Push for Votes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia Sun Contributing Writer   
Friday, 02 November 2012 00:43

“Dreamers” come out to encourage voters to head to the polls

ALEX GARCIA/SFVS

Zuleyma Barajas knocks on a resident's door in Sylmar and asks for the name of a registered voter, encouraging her to go out to the polls on Nov. 6.

It turns out Karina Rios, the resident Barajas and others are visiting on Beaver Street, has already sent her ballot by mail.

"I wanted to make sure to vote in time," Rios said. "If we want our rights to be validated, we have to make sure our voice is heard. Silence [not voting] is not good."

Barajas moves on to the next registered voter on the block.

Most who live on this street are Latino, and are new citizens who will be voting for the first time in the Presidential election.

Barajas, her sister Saira, their mother Maria Galvan, and team member Hassan Josue Zuniga work for the California New Americans Vote Campaign, a nine-state effort to encourage this segment of the electorate to get out and vote.

The National Association for Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) estimates there are 14 million Latino voters across the country registered for the 2012 presidential election, and that some 12.2 million of them will vote.

However, other estimates put the number of Latinos eligible to vote at approximately 24 million, which means that about half of them don't vote.

Those figures are similar to those from the 2008 presidential election, when 9.7 million out of 19.5 million eligible Latino voters cast a ballot. That 50 percent total of actual voters lags behind the 66 percent of whites, and 55 percent of African Americans who vote.

"Even though [the voter turnout] is still not our full potential," said NALEO Executive Director Arturo Vargas, "It's going to have an impact." Latino voters are particularly important in swing states like Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, Vargas said, adding it shows that "you need a Latino strategy to win the White House."

California may not be part of that strategy, given that Democrats have a wide advantage over Republicans in the state. But there are still several controversial propositions on the state ballot that will affect all residents in the state, and whomever wins the White House – Barack Obama or Mitt Romney – will have a long term impact on national and foreign policy, including issues like health care and the DREAM Act.

"We want people to make the right decisions for the future," said Barajas, a future where one day she, too, will vote.

Born in Mexico, Barajas, her sister, and their mother arrived in the United States 13 years ago.

Neither Barajas and Saira, who are 22 and 20 respectively, nor Galvin can vote because of their immigration status.

But the sisters have benefited from the Deferred Action program President Obama approved earlier this year, which allows the so-called "Dreamers" – immigrants, younger than 30, who arrived in the U.S. before turning 16 – to remain and work in the country legally for the next two years, provided they have finished or in the process of completing high school.

"This is the part that we can do now," said Saira, speaking of their efforts to get the vote out in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

"This is something that matters to us. Latinos [who can vote] are the voice of us who cannot do it," added Barajas. "I'm very interested in what happens in this country because I've been here since I was nine-years-old."

"We want people to vote to help each other out and maybe in the future we will also have the chance to vote," said Zuniga who, along with Barajas, currently attends Los Angeles Valley College.

For the past month, this group of young women have been visiting homes in Pacoima, Panorama City, Sun Valley, Van Nuys, San Fernando and other parts of the east San Fernando Valley, first to register eligible voters, and now to encourage them to actually head out to the polls.

They said they visit between 160-180 homes on average everyday, something they plan to do until Election Day.

Recently they visited the Sylmar home of Ana Preciado.

"We went over the stuff [ballot] and we voted already," Preciado told Barajas, after the latter knocked on her door.

"We have to make a difference. We want Obama to win," she added before thanking them for the visit.

Another resident, Santiago Sanchez, said he hadn't voted yet but plans to do so on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

"If you don't vote you're missing an opportunity to choose the candidates and the laws you want. It's the only way to make our voice count and determine decisions," he said.

Jorge Mario Cabrera, spokesperson for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), a group also part of the campaign encouraging voter turnouts, said the decision to have "Dreamers" visit homes is to illustrate the need for an immigration reform in the next presidential term.

"The young Dreamers have joined this campaign because even though they can't vote, they're asking voters to protect their dreams and fight so that the next administration approves something beyond a Deferred Action," Cabrera said.

Cabrera noted that more than 300,000 California voters have been reached through the effort. "In addition to calling thousands of voters each evening, CHIRLA volunteers walk precincts where voters have either stopped voting or vote irregularly.

On Nov. 6, volunteers will distribute door-hangers, serenade voters with Mariachi tunes (mañanitas), run "Vote Now!" brigades and knock on doors of voters who have not yet voted," Cabrera said.

Galvan said the experience of visiting people and talking to them about the election has, for her, reinforced the importance of voting.

"Before I didn't really pay much attention," she admitted. "But now that I see how things can change, I tell people who can vote that they have to be the voice of us who can't."

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Last Updated on Friday, 02 November 2012 00:54