Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Immigrants rally to get out the vote

Immigrants are rallying their fellow immigrants to vote this year. As everyone should do. DP

By PHIL HELSEL, ADVANCE STAFF WRITER They held signs written in Spanish, Arabic and English on the steps of Borough Hall, asking a question that both the presidential and local candidates haven't much touched: What about us immigrants?

Around 100 people, immigrants or their children, and from Port Richmond to Brooklyn, demonstrated in St. George yesterday in a rally to get out the immigrant vote.

"Right here on Staten Island we saw hate crimes against immigrants, when a truck drove into Mexican stores," said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, referring to an allegedly racially-motivated smash-up Aug. 18 in Port Richmond.

The groups, which include Make the Road New York, El Centro de Inmigrante, and the Arab-American Association of New York, plan to knock on about 30,000 doors around the borough reminding registered voters to show up at the polls Nov. 4.

Volunteers aren't trying to register new voters; the deadline to register passed Oct. 10. But they do want to reach out to immigrant voters who are registered to vote but have cast a ballot no more than once since 2002.

Despite its perception as the least-diverse borough, Staten Island has seen the biggest jump in the number of registered voters of Arabic descent from 2002 to 2007, and since 2000 has seen the number of Latinos increase from 53,500 to 70,600 in 2006. During that time the number of Asians calling the Island home rose from 27,900 to 37,900.

The groups said it was a non-partisan effort aimed at their issues: immigration reform to make it easier for people to become legal citizens; a "humane solution" to the estimated 12.5 million undocumented immigrants already here; and an end to federal raids.

But many in the crowd are backing Barack Obama.

"Bush said he was going to change life for the middle class, and he hasn't done any of that," said Sarzina Halim, 20, of New Brighton.

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