Not even an hour went by from the moment Elizabeth Escutia was sworn in as an American citizen to when she first became a registered voter.
“This is incredible, I’m so happy that I finally did this [become a US citizen] after 27 years, and I’m happy that I can finally register to vote,” said Escutia, who immigrated to the US from Mexico when she was just seven months old.
“I wanted to register to vote so that I could have a voice to represent minorities, like me, and be a part of this country,” she added.
Escutia was one of several new citizens who took advantage of the opportunity to become a registered voter, thanks to the efforts of a group of organizations stationed outside the courthouse in downtown Atlanta, with the goal of assisting new citizens with the voter registration process.
These organizations, whose mission is to promote civic participation, include the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, League of Women Voters, Coalition for the People’s Agenda, New American Pathways and Pro Georgia.
“We’ve noticed that people who become naturalized have problems registering to vote. What we’re doing at the naturalization ceremonies is not just encouraging them to register to vote, but also helping them to avoid problems with the process,” explained Jerry González, executive director of GALEO.
With an American flag in hand, María Carroz wasted no time in registering herself to vote after her ceremony concluded.
“My dream is to vote. Now that we’re citizens, why not? It’s our commitment as good citizens,” said Carroz, who has lived in the United States for nine years, along with her spouse and two children.
Since GALEO was founded in 2003 by González, former state senator Sam Zamarripa and current State Representative Pedro Marín, its primary mission has been to promote and increase civic participation.
“The Latino vote has grown a lot. In 2003 there were only 10,000 Latino voters and then in 2014 it was estimated that there were more than 220,000 Latinos registered to vote,” said González.
In addition to raising civic awareness, GALEO also established its Institute for Leadership. Through this initiative, over 450 individuals have received training and some participants have even gone on to occupy political positions, such as Leonard Gómez, who currently serves as mayor pro-tem for the city of Grantville.
According to Alejandro Ramírez, program coordinator for Civic Engagement and Field Organizing for GALEO, naturalization ceremonies are key opportunities to increase the Latino vote. For the last year, the Colombian native has attended these events at least three times a month in order to register new voters.
“We have about 50 percent of Latinos registered to vote. It’s giving good results because the Latino vote is growing in Georgia,” assured Ramírez.
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