Thursday October 18, 2012

BOSTON (AP) -- The largest immigrant advocacy group in New England has helped 4,000 naturalized citizens living in Massachusetts register as voters in the Nov. 6 election.

The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, or MIRA, said Wednesday that's the largest number of immigrants it has registered as voters in its 25-year history.

The naturalized citizens were registered between late last spring and Wednesday, the deadline for Massachusetts residents to enter voter rolls.

MIRA representatives attended 20 naturalization ceremonies in Boston, Lowell, Worcester and Malden to register the newest Americans as voters. Others participating in the initiative were the Brazilian Women's Group, voter advocacy group MassVOTE, the East Boston Ecumenical Community Coun cil, the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speak ers, SEIU Local 615 and Oiste, a nonprofit group that trains Massachusetts Latinos to run for office.

"Candidates have too often taken their immigrant constituents for granted, or worse, used them as scapegoats," MIRA's Organizing Director Marcony Almeida said. "We wanted to empower new Americans to fight back by representing their own interests and those of their fellow immigrants at the ballot box."

The Immigration Policy Center says naturalized Americans represent about 12 percent of registered voters in Massachusetts, including their children born in the United States since 1965.


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Massachusetts had the seventh-largest population of legal immigrants in the country, with about 320,000 people holding green cards given to legal permanent U.S. residents in 2010. Some 180,000 immigrants were eligible for citizenship but had not applied for naturalization at that time, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

It typically takes just over five months to acquire citizenship, paving the way for voter registration.

When immigrants register, they generally show up to vote. More than 89 percent of registered foreign-born Americans cast ballots in 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

And their share among voters is growing. Among all voters who cast ballots in the 1996 presidential election, 4.1 percent were foreign-born, according to Pew. Eight years later in 2008, the percentage rose to 6.3.

Immigrants do not vote as a block and have historically supported candidates in both major political parties, but there's been a recent shift toward Democrats. That's partly due to hostile rhetoric adopted by Republican leaders and their political candidates against illegal immigration, which has affected the perception of new immigrant voters.

MIRA representatives plan to place thousands of follow-up calls to foreign-born residents and those considered as "immigrant friendly" to encourage them to turn out in large numbers and vote in November.

"The vote of New Americans can be decisive, as we saw in the 2010 election, where gateway immigrant cities like New Bedford, Lowell and Boston all had record turnout," Almeida said.