Get out the vote effort focuses on immigrants
If you see Vincent Dee on the streets of Elgin, Schaumburg, Bartlett or Bloomingdale in the next few months trying to tell you about immigration issues and the November election, he hopes you'll be nice to him.
The 24-year-old Bartlett native and Columbia College graduate is one of 20 fellows in the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights' New Americans Democracy Project. About half of the fellows are working in Chicago while the other half, like Dee, are stationed throughout the suburbs.
The goal is to register 26,000 new immigrant voters and get 159,885 people to the polls. But for ICIRR, the fight will go on long after election day.
"For us it's the issues that we care about," said Lawrence Benito, executive director of ICIRR. "It goes beyond voting. It's about holding [candidates] accountable."
ICIRR's focus at the federal level is on comprehensive immigration reform, passage of the DREAM Act and reduction of deportations. At the state level the organization is focusing on driver's licenses for undocumented individuals and protecting funding for immigrant communities.
The fellows will be working in specific geographic areas targeting new and infrequent immigrant voters, getting them information about these issues and how candidates feel about them. They will recruit volunteers, organize candidate forums and knock on doors talking to voters.
Dee is working in the Elgin area reaching out primarily to the Asian population with support from the Asian-American Institute. Other fellows will use their ethnic identities and bilingual skills to connect with immigrant communities in Waukegan, Aurora, Mundelein and Bolingbrook, among others.
All of the information fellows will be distributing is available in the languages their target immigrants speak, giving them the unique ability to reach out to groups many campaigns do not.
"These are voters that campaigns don't usually target because it's expensive to do so or, depending on the political campaign, they may not have the volunteer base or capacity to reach communities in which they need language assistance," Benito said.
For Dee, whose parents immigrated from the Philippines, being part of the conversation about immigration issues — and perhaps the solution — is important. He remembers when he was in second grade and his mom finally got her green card and how much trouble his father had finding a job in this country.
The fellowship is part of a nonpartisan effort and Dee said he doesn't plan to persuade anyone to vote for particular candidates, just to inform them about the issues.
"I want to make sure the future generations of immigrants don't have to go through what my family went through," Dee said.
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