Event aids in immigrant voting

By Brian Loschiavo
November 6, 2008

Megan Pellegrino

Twelve representatives of the Cabrini College community gathered on the third floor of the mansion in a small, cramped room, not much bigger than a voting booth, to take part in a new immigrant voter support call event.

This non-partisan event took place on Tuesday, Oct. 21, when a three-hour phone bank was used to contact new immigrants who recently gained their citizenship and registered to vote. The idea of the phone bank was to educate and encourage the new voters to get out to the polls on Election Day.

Katie Cruz,sophomore psychology major, talked about the fact that this will really help the new citizens come out to vote and know they have a voice. Cruz, who is fluent in Spanish, rushed around the room helping callers when they came across a new citizen who could not speak fluent English.

This event hit Cruz close to home because her parents and grandparents are natives of El Salvador. They were once in the same situation as some of the people on the other end of the phone. She explained that it is great to know new immigrants are getting a helping hand.

The event was hosted by the Wolfington Center, which promotes and enhances community service to strengthen Cabrini College’s Catholic identity. The Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition provided training for the event. The organization, which began in 1998 as a diverse group that brings together professionals and advocates for immigrant groups of different backgrounds to share information and resources, identifies common problems and for solutions.

Hillary Blecker, the PICC representative at the event, has been working mostly with Latino immigrants for the last six years on issues like health and work placement safety. Before the phone bank began, Blecker educated the group and trained them on how to make the phone calls and handle different situations that may come their way.

“I think if new citizens in this country feel empowered enough to get out to the polls, then we are doing a great thing,” Blecker said.

In this specific phone bank, the volunteers called newly registered voters in the North Hampton County area of Pennsylvania. In this area, there is a large population of Latino immigrants, and there is a lot of voter intimidation and animosity towards these people.

The PICC had previous interactions with the people who were called during the event. PICC registered the immigrants to vote at their naturalization ceremonies where they became citizens of the United States. The point of the phone bank was to follow up on their registration. PICC has registered over 6,000 new voters for this election.

“We use the phone banks to keep in touch with the newly registered voters,” Blecker said. “When we call, we make sure they have received their voter card, that they know what they have to do on Election Day, and to encourage them to actually get out to the polls.”

Cabrini College made a connection with the PICC a few short years ago when the issue of immigration reform hit the U.S. Congress. Cabrini got a group of people together with PICC and Catholic Relief Services to lobby for fair immigration reform in Washington D.C. Since then, the Wolfington Center has been in touch with PICC. This is how Cabrini became involved with the phone bank.

“I feel elated and just delighted to see the Cabrini community reaching out like this,” Dr. Mary Laver, director of international partnerships in the Wolfington Center, said. “It’s not as easy as it seems for people who are new to the U.S. to get out and vote. Unlike a lot of us who had parents or teachers show us how to go about voting, many of these people don’t have that. That’s where we come in.”

Blecker of PICC noted how unfortunate it is that not all United States citizens exercise their right to vote and get out to the polls. So to get new citizens registered and to the polls helps to assure them that they are becoming a part of this country.

“It felt great to help new Americans begin to feel like they are part of society here in the United States,” freshmen criminology major Kati Lalli said.

Manuela Deoliveria, freshman computer graphic design major, found it to be frustrating at times when people weren’t thankful for what they were doing.

“When I talked to people who didn’t have the time to talk to me it was frustrating because of the time we were taking to do this,” Deoliveria said. “But when I began to talk to people who were grateful, I knew I was doing a great thing.”

One woman who is a new citizen and voter answered the phone as she was just getting home from work. With enthusiasm, she said she really wanted to talk and asked the caller to please hold on so she could put her stuff down.

“This country is so gracious,” the woman said.

This event was appropriate to Cabrini College considering it was named after and founded upon the work of Saint Frances Cabrini, who is the patroness of immigrants.

“I believe Saint Frances Cabrini would approve of the college named for her taking part in this,” Laver said. “This was a wonderful representation of the Cabrini community, students, public safety and Cabrini sisters all working together for the common good of our society.”

Brian Loschiavo

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