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Immigrants, Our Democracy Needs Us

Immigrants, Our Democracy Needs Us

Magazine, The Immigrant Experience, Op-ed by Yinka Faleti

Ever since he began his campaign for the presidency five years ago, the President and his enablers have been attacking immigrants like my family and me and doing all they can to revive the idea that you can determine whether someone is a “real American” based on their skin color.

This is not a new idea but one that, in the past, our major political parties had, by and large, relegated to the racist and fringe elements of our society. Recent presidents of both major parties have lifted up immigrants as an important part of our society who are both building their own American dreams and, in the process, helping to build up America. Ronald Reagan, for example, famously pointed out that America’s ability to attract people from anywhere in the world and have a process whereby they can become American citizens is something that makes us unique among nations.

Immigrants, Our Democracy Needs Us

Yinka speaks to a group of immigrants at an #EndSARS rally

The benefits that immigrants bring to the United States are real and often quantifiable. In my own state of Missouri, for example, immigrant-owned businesses employ over 60,000 people. Nationally, immigrants’ impact is even greater. Those who chose to become Americans have given us tech giants like Apple, Amazon and Google. Immigrants own 3.2 million businesses of every size and description and employ nearly 8 million people nationwide. All of this is to say nothing of the immense contributions immigrants have made in arts and entertainment, as first responders, and by donning the uniform of our country, as I did when I served in the U.S. Army, deploying twice to Kuwait—both before and in response to September 11.

There is, however, another area where immigrants’ contributions are desperately needed right now: participation in our democracy. Naturalized American citizens represent a huge potential voting bloc of some 23 million people. That is fully one in every ten eligible American voters. For context, although he lost the overall national popular vote, Donald Trump won election by a combined total of less than 80,000 votes in three states. In Missouri, we have 127,000 naturalized citizens who are eligible to vote. In 2016, only 78,000 votes decided the U.S. Senate race in Missouri.

In a democracy, all citizens have a responsibility to participate. Those of us who chose to become Americans share exactly the same rights and responsibilities as our fellow citizens. If we want America to be a country whose leaders celebrate and welcome immigrants as a vital part of The American Dream instead of demonizing them as criminals, it is up to us to make our voices heard at the ballot box. No one else is going to do it for us.

Yinka Faleti is an immigrant American, a West Point graduate, a U.S. Army veteran, and the Democratic nominee for Missouri Secretary of State. Learn more here.”

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