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American Immigrants Still Waiting for a Voice in Election

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Blake Tan won’t be voting this Tuesday. It’s not out of ignorance to the issues, a stick-it-to-the-man apathy or even cynicism from an onslaught of phone calls and political ads. If supporters from either dominant political party barrage him with facts and fliers, his response is sure to disappoint.

“When people hassle me about voting, I have the best answer,” he said. “I literally can’t vote.”

Tan, a junior at Ohio University, has lived in the United States since his Philippines-based family moved here when he was five. But a snail-speed immigration system leaves many families such as Tan’s wishing for lines toward citizenship to turn into lines at the polls, twiddling their thumbs while the rest of the country pencils in ballots.

“Especially when it comes down to election season like this, it’s the worst,” Tan said. “It’s kind of being left out of the political process that is at the core of being American.”

The U.S. immigrant population stood at 40 million, or 13 percent of the total U.S. population in 2010, according to the Census Bureau.

Approximately two of every five immigrants in 2010 were naturalized. The remaining 22.5 million included lawful permanent residents, unauthorized immigrants and legal residents on temporary visas.

Tan’s family stayed in America on a work visa obtained for his father’s job at Diebold. They received their green cards just three years ago, and will be eligible for citizenship after completing the necessary five years of residency. Naturalization then takes anywhere between five months to over two years to complete.

He may pay taxes until then, but he still can’t vote.

“Even on local elections when a single vote matters even more, I essentially don’t have a say,” he said.

Daniel Adams is another OU student born outside of America. His family immigrated to the States from Bristol, England in 1997, when he was four years old. Adams’ family held a work visa for about six years, and was granted a green card three years after applying.

Adams was finally able to apply for citizenship this year. But the naturalization process isn’t quick enough to get him in the polling booth by this Tuesday. Without the ability to vote, he’s left with just words to make a difference.

“I’m more influential in arguing about the topic, because I can’t vote,” Adams said.

Nine percent of immigrants fall between ages 18 to 24, an age that is a key demographic in the election. The Vote-or-Die atmosphere of college campuses such as OU is impossible for students such as Tan and Adams to escape, with political activity ranging from tables outside of Baker Center to the current sitting President dropping by for a youth-targeted stump speech.

“It’s kind of annoying because you can’t do anything, yet all you hear about is the election,” Adams said. “It doesn’t even matter what you think.”

They call their position “frustrating.” Issues such as immigration directly affect them as much—if not more—than natural citizens, but they have no voting power to enact change.

Both leading candidates have professed enthusiasm for skilled immigration, but neither offers plans to speed up the process.

“I think the immigration process might not seem as important as talking about the economy, or talking about equal marriage,” Tan said, “but I would say immigration is something that’s broken.”

Tan believes his experience in the American school system since first grade has granted him just as much knowledge of U.S. history as any real citizen.

“There are a lot of young people who essentially grew up American. They might not have been born American, but they sure are bred American,” Tan said. “And they’re kind of being left out of something that’s so important to the American identity, the democratic identity.”

But until his family’s long naturalization process is complete, his voice can’t be turned into a vote.

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