Could these voters help determine the outcome of the Arizona election?


A campaign is underway to encourage tens of thousands of immigrants in Arizona who have become naturalized U.S. citizens since the last presidential election to vote next November.

The campaign is part of a larger effort targeting battleground states where so-called “new American voters” could make a difference in deciding who will win the presidential election.

Joe Biden won Arizona by less than 10,500 votes over Donald Trump in 2020.

The roughly 62,000 immigrants in Arizona who recently became naturalized U.S. citizens and were therefore eligible to vote would have the power to decide the election, Nicole Melaku, executive director of the National Partnership for New Americans, said during a recent news conference at the state Capitol. Her organization is a bipartisan coalition of 70 immigrant rights and labor groups. Their estimate of new American voters in Arizona since November 2020 comes from the US Immigration Policy Center at the University of California, San Diego.

Candidates running for elected office need to pay attention to issues that are important to new American voters, she said.

“New American voters are represented and involved in all aspects of our society,” Melaku said. “They are multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-generational, and we are saying we don’t want to leave any of our voices on the table this November.”

Melaku cited immigration, reproductive rights, global conflicts and climate change as key issues for recently naturalized U.S. citizens.

Campaigns aimed at drawing candidates' attention to new American voters face an uphill battle, said Francisco Pedraza, an Arizona State University professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies.

Candidates may be overlooking naturalized immigrants because so much of the political focus now is on the U.S.-Mexico border and the recent wave of asylum seekers entering the country, he said.

Still, Pedraza said, the campaign's focus on mobilizing recently naturalized voters in battleground states like Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania makes strategic sense because their numbers in those states could determine the outcome in close races.

“When there are that many people and you're in a state where the outcome of statewide elections could be less than 20,000 votes, then you can definitely make a difference,” Pedraza said.

But new American voters are not a monolithic group that votes alike, he said. They have different backgrounds and political affiliations, he said. Nor are elections won by a single group, be it “soccer moms, Latinos or dissatisfied white male voters without college degrees,” to name a few, he said.

Rather, elections are won by putting together coalitions of different demographic groups, he said.

“There are ways to interpret the election results in a way that gives credit to a particular group,” Pedraza said. “It obviously takes a combination of all of these groups for a candidate or a campaign to be successful.”

According to a 2022 report from the National Partnership for New American Voters, naturalized U.S. citizen voters tend to be ignored by candidates because they tend to vote less often and at lower turnouts than U.S.-born voters, and they also tend to vote against voters of color to be a voter.

Amritha Karthikeyan, an immigrant from India, became a naturalized citizen in 2022. She wants to take part in her first US presidential election in November.

Through the group Arizona Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander for Equity, where she is an intern, she is also committed to encouraging recently naturalized citizens to vote in November — or register to vote, if they do have not done this yet.

Exercising the right to vote is important not only for oneself but also for the people in one's community, said Karthikeyan, who expects to graduate from ASU this month with his bachelor's degree.

Along with immigration and abortion access, employment and fair wages are issues that resonate with recently naturalized voters, Karthikeyan said.

Razia Shalizi, 24, was born in Pakistan and grew up in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She came to the United States as a refugee in 2018 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2023. She plans to register as a voter so she can vote in the November general election.

“I plan to vote this year,” Shalizi said.

She said she is still learning about the U.S. political system and has not yet formed an opinion on many issues, but women's rights and access to affordable education, especially for immigrants, are her biggest concerns.

Shalizi is a member of the Service Employees International Union, one of the groups supporting the New American Voter Campaign. She works in the warehouse of a distribution center in Marshalls, where most of the workers are immigrants or refugees who need access to education to improve their lives.

“A lot of my colleagues can't read or write, so it's really hard for them,” said Shalizi, a business student at Glendale Community College.

Alex Jurua, 25, was born in the Republic of Congo and came to the United States as a refugee in 2019 after spending most of his life in a refugee camp in Uganda.

He is now a lawful permanent resident and hopes to become a naturalized citizen in time to vote in the November general election.

He said immigration is the most important issue and he wants America to continue to be a country that welcomes immigrants and refugees.

“I’m still getting to know the candidates” to find out who “is willing to support us, help us,” Jurua said.

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Anna Harden

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