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New citizens eager to cast ballots

Kwang Chou immigrant new American citizen. Phoprovided~Sun-Times Media

Kwang Chou, immigrant, new American citizen. Photo provided~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 10, 2012 6:37AM



There was something fresh, pure and distinctly American about the immigrants lining up behind the League of Women Voters table to register to vote for the first time.

Moments earlier in the grand foyer of the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Hammond, the 42 newly naturalized citizens from 12 countries had sworn allegiance to their new homeland, leaving behind the war, uncertainty and political unrest of their native lands to become Americans. They left from places as diverse as Syria and Pakistan, Mexico and Switzerland, Cuba and Lebanon.

They’d made big, life-changing decisions: first to leave the lands of their birth and their friends, family and jobs behind like millions of immigrants before them, then to cut the ties with their homelands and become Americans.

They listened carefully as U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Rodovich administered the oath.

“It is always a special privilege for me to perform naturalization ceremonies,” Rodovich told the crowd of new Americans and their families. “I’ve done this countless times, even once in a hospital for man who wanted to become a U.S. citizen before he died. It’s a celebration of our great country and it never fails to move me.”

A clerk handed out their naturalization papers, sometimes struggling to utter their occasionally unpronounceable names. The new citizens posed proudly for photos with the judge while clutching their valuable new certificates.

Some had never voted. Some came from lands ruled by dictators and thugs where election outcomes — if there are elections at all — are pre-ordained.

Hammond steelworker Delfino Navarro said he registered to vote to have his voice heard in the coming election.

“It is very important to vote,” said Navarro, 39, a native of Guanajuato, Mexico, who was joined by his American citizen wife, Esmeralda Navarro, who also plans to vote. “This is how democracy works.”

Asad Ansari, 42, a Valparaiso pediatrician and native of Pakistan, took the citizenship oath two weeks after his wife, Adeela Alizai, a 40-year-old physician, took hers. Ansari said he registered to vote because he wants to participate in the fall elections.

“I want my say in who gets elected and runs our country,” said Ansari.

Alizai said she, too, plans to vote for the first time in November. “I feel very strongly in support of one of the presidential candidates and I plan to vote for him. Someone has to protect the middle and lower economic classes.”

Music teacher Kwang Chou, 45, of Schererville, also plans to vote.

“It is our right,” Chou said. “In this country we can pick our own president and legislators.”

Albertine Dent, Alice Vockell, Mary Jo Gorman and Barbara Schilling, all from Hammond and board members of the League of Women Voters of the Calumet Area, said they’ve registered voters at naturalization ceremonies for years.

“They’re excited to be able to vote in a presidential election,” said Vockell.

“They don’t take it for granted. So many of our own native born Americans don’t vote, and that’s a shame.”

The League of Women Voters representatives said they feared this election will see record numbers of voters disenfranchised and denied that most sacred American right.

They said Indiana’s tough voter identification law, which compels voters to produce specific state-issued photo identification cards, could suppress voting, particularly among elderly, disabled and minority populations.

“Our local public transportation system is bad, which makes it hard for some people to get to the license bureau,” Vockell said. “And to get those state ID cards, they sometimes need to get documents they don’t have that cost money some can’t afford.”

Dent said prospective voters should review all of the documents Indiana requires before going to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles branch to obtain a driver’s license or Indiana ID and register to vote before the Oct. 9 deadline.

“They need to make sure they have everything they need to vote,” Dent said.

Many voters over 80 have no birth certificates, they explained. Dent said her 95-year-old mother would have been denied the right to vote because her name was spelled differently on her birth certificate than the name she’s used for nearly one century.

“If people haven’t voted in recent elections, they may have been purged from the polls,” said Gorman. “They need to find out if they’re registered, otherwise, they’ll be denied at the polls.”

Each of the women urged voters denied the vote to request a provisional ballot.

“It’s your right,” Schilling said.



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