New immigrants encouraged to vote

CHICAGO As a new U.S. citizen, Tony Wasilewski, who is Polish-American, says he feels honor bound to vote in the upcoming election -- his first chance to do so in his new country, as he said speaking through an interpreter.

"A year ago, I became a citizen and the first thing I did was register to vote," Wasilewsk said.

In the weeks and months leading up to the November 4 presidential election, a volunteer group called the 'Young Polish Initiative' has been targeting new citizens, mostly in one predominantly Polish neighborhood on Chicago's Northwest Side, getting them registered to vote.

They say they're on a record-setting pace.

Many new citizens are motivated to participate in the electoral process because of one overriding issue -- immigration reform.

"We have many families who are being broken by the broken immigration system," said Monika Starczuk, Young Polish Initiative. "(In) many families, a husband or spouse is a U.S. citizen and the other spouse is not, and they're being deported and torn apart. And there's no chance for them to be reunited in the near future."

Volunteers registered more than 500 new Polish-American citizens to vote in this upcoming election. And paid workers targeted many other minority groups in Chicago, registering a total of more than 25,000 new citizens to vote.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights says more than half of the new voters it has signed up in its voter registration drive are from Chicago's Latino community.

"A lot of immigrant families are of mixed status, so although someone may be a citizen, someone else in the family may not be," said Juan Jose Gonzalez, Ill. Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights. "And I think people have a close sense that they're voting for their family members who are in a vulnerable state."

Immigrants who are now proud, new citizens say they won't take for granted what far too many Americans do -- the right to vote.

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