News & Views

New citizens discuss what voting means to them

Sheril, 21, at her Citizenship ceremony in 2019
Photo credit: Hannah Snyder Photography

Dear HIAS PA Supporter,

Today you have the opportunity to effect change in the United States. We at HIAS PA keep saying that justice is on the ballot on November 3rd, because the results of today’s election will affect our country for years to come. They will affect US citizens, refugees, asylum seekers, and all potential immigrants to the United States. We implore you – if you have not already – to go vote.

Think back to your first time voting. How did you feel? Excited? Nervous? Like you were using your voice for good? Especially during an election like this one, our clients – some first-time voters, others who, between USCIS slowdowns and the pandemic did not become citizens in time to vote – remind us daily why we should never take voting for granted.

Sheril, who immigrated from Jamaica at age 14, and who is now voting for the first time at age 21, feels the weight of civil rights struggles past and present: “This is my first time voting ever. Everyone keeps saying that voting is having a voice, but I think it’s showing where you stand. A voice can carry off, and a lot of people won’t listen to voices. But me having a place, like when you watch people standing in line watching Martin Luther King’s speech – that’s what I picture – watching everybody make their way to meet the new President.” Sheril has today off from school, and will be voting in person at her polling place.

Brahima, from Ivory Coast in West Africa, voted by mail, and was inspired by the election to apply for a mail processing position at the post office. Brahima believes that if you want to effect change in the United States, the first step is to vote. “We came to the United States to be free, to have a better life. You can be happy to be a citizen, but you also have to do your duty.”

To Brahima, “Voting means a lot. It’s all about your destiny and your future and your kids’ future. It’s all about the leader of the country. If you want some change in the country, or if you think [either candidate] has something to offer you, the first step is to go to vote for them. That’s where everything starts.”

Sandra (name has been changed), took her citizenship oath yesterday. In Pennsylvania, you must be a citizen for at least one month before being eligible to vote. For Sandra, voting is “one of the reasons why I was excited to get citizenship, because for me it shows that I’m participating in being a US citizen. It shows my devotion to the country.” For Sandra, being so close to voting in this election was bittersweet, but she kept a positive attitude, saying, “There will always be an opportunity to vote.”

To those who haven’t become citizens in time to vote in this election, Sheril says, “As long as there’s life, there’s hope for the future. If [being eligible to vote] doesn’t happen now, don’t worry! Work toward making it happen so you can do it next time.”

All three have been encouraging friends, family, classmates, coworkers, and neighbors to vote.

For Sandra, and all of the immigrants who are not yet able to vote, we ask you to vote. Vote for the future of our country. Vote for justice, vote for good.

In health,

Cathryn Miller-Wilson