15 August 2020
Brenda Cienfuegos recently became a United States citizen. Now, she is eager to exercise her new rights as an American.
Born in El Salvador, Cienfuegos came legally to the U.S. in 2010. She registered to vote right after her U.S. citizenship ceremony in Pennsylvania earlier this year.
The mother of two told VOA that voting gives Latinos like her a voice.
Cienfuegos demurred when asked which candidate she plans to support in the November presidential election.
"Like I learned in my country, my vote is secret," she said. "But what can I tell you? I'm going to support the candidate who better supports the Latino community."
Cienfuegos is part of a growing cohort of new citizens taking part in the country's democratic process. U.S. Census records suggest that more than 23 million naturalized citizens will be able to vote in the 2020 elections. The Pew Research Center says that represents about 10 percent of the electorate.
The political power of naturalized Americans is recognized by many different political groups.
Mike Madrid is cofounder of the Lincoln Project, a political action committee of Republican Party activists who oppose President Donald Trump. Madrid says that naturalized citizens "have a greater likelihood to vote" than native-born citizens. He added that they are "a much more pro-immigrant voting bloc, being immigrants themselves."
Supporters of Trump say they, too, are reaching out to Americans born in other lands.
"We recognized the importance of engaging every American citizen ..., including those who are naturalized citizens," said Yali Nunez, the Republican National Committee's Director of Hispanic Media.
Naturalized citizens highly likely to vote
The Pew Research Center reports that Latinos and Asians make up nearly two-thirds of new citizens who can vote this year.
Pew found that 53 percent of naturalized Latinos and 52 percent of naturalized Asians voted in 2016. That is compared to 46 percent of native-born Latinos and 45 percent of native-born Asians.
The top countries from which new voters originated are Mexico, the Philippines, India and China.
In North Carolina, Juliana Cabrales is with the NALEO Educational Fund, a nonpartisan group that supports Latino civic activities. She says political parties need to continue communicating with new Americans all the time, not just in election years.
In the past, parties would "take Latinos for granted, as never voting or always voting one way," Cabrales said. "As an organization, we actively ask political parties to engage Latinos."
Cabrales noted that presidential campaigns actively reach out to new Americans in politically competitive states, but often overlook them in the rest of the country.
She said: "Latinos that live in California, in New York, in Texas are often forgotten..."
Appealing to many
Opinion surveys and information from recent elections suggest that immigrant voters often support Democratic Party candidates. That does not surprise some Republicans.
Brendan Steinhauser is a Texas-based Republican adviser. He told VOA that some statements by top party officials have caused people to think that Republicans do not welcome immigrants even if they come legally to the United States.
Steinhauser has worked for Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn. He said Cornyn has regularly sent aides to attend naturalization ceremonies in Texas.
Steinhauser said the senator received a lot of support from Hispanic voters. He added that, in the future, appealing to new citizens will be important for the two main political parties.
He said that parties will have to appeal to many different groups across America.
"A party that doesn't do that will not have a future in this country," he said.
I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.
Aline Barros reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
eager – adj. very interested
demur – v. to refuse a request
cohort – n. a group of people who have something in common
bloc – n. a group of people connected by common goals
originate – v. to have a beginning; to create
non-partisan – adj. free from party or political ties
take...for granted – v. (phrasal) to believe something is true without knowing that is the case