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For Chicago’s naturalized citizens, a chance to vote for president for the first time

Participation by immigrant voters is lower than U.S.-born voters, but naturalized citizens in the Latino community have a higher rate of participation than U.S.-born Latinos.

Miguel Perez, 42, is voting for president for the first time this year — one of more than 23 million U.S. immigrants eligible to do so this year..
Miguel Perez, 42, is voting for president for the first time this year — one of more than 23 million U.S. immigrants eligible to do so this year..
Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

A year after Miguel Perez Jr. fought his deportation and was able to become a U.S. citizen, he’s among the newly naturalized citizens in Chicago who are casting their votes for president for the first time this year.

“I know most generations say the same thing about their election, ‘Oh, back in the day, that was the election of the century,’ ” Perez says. “This one is very crucial to the times we are living — in not only the pandemic, but everything. We really need change.”

Perez, 42, voted in the primary in March, but this will be his first time voting in a general election for president.

He is one of more than 23 million U.S. immigrants nationwide eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election, according to the Pew Research Center. Voter participation among immigrant voters is lower than U.S.-born voters, but naturalized citizens in the Latino community have a higher rate of voter participation than Latinos born in the United States, according to Pew.

Miguel Perez, 42, is voting for president for the first time this year — one of more than 23 million U.S. immigrants eligible to do so this year..
Miguel Perez, 42, is voting for president for the first time this year — one of more than 23 million U.S. immigrants eligible to do so this year..
Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Advocates had worried about the backlog in citizenship cases that likely mean some cases would not be processed in time for Election Day. Across the country, more than 700,000 people had pending naturalization cases as of March 31, according to the most recent data available from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In Chicago, those delays meant 21,977 people had pending naturalization applications.

Perez joined the U.S. Army and served in Afghanistan before he was deported to Mexico in 2018 after being convicted of a drug offense. Gov. J.B. Pritzker pardoned him last year, opening the door for him to return to the United States to reopen his citizenship case.

As a result of that spotlight, he was invited by U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, D-Ill., to attend President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address earlier this year, and he has visited Washington to speak with lawmakers about deported U.S. veterans.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Sun-Times file

“I also feel the frustration,” Perez says of his experience in Washington. “I see how [Democrats] battle with the administration.”

He says he was passionate about helping vote Trump out of office. Since he’s been back in the United States, Perez says he has continued to advocate for deported veterans by writing letters and calling lawmakers.

Rissi Pacheco is also among those in Chicago who are voting for president for the first time. Months after becoming a naturalized citizen, she recently deposited her early ballot at a secure dropoff location. Pacheco, 30, who was born in Belize, worried about having to wait in a line if she voted in person and also didn’t want to have to take a day off from work to vote.

So she filled out her ballot at home, after researching the names she wasn’t familiar.

“It felt amazing to be able to impact what our government is going to look like and how that is going to affect my community and the communities around me,” Pacheco says. “I’m very proud.”

Since she became eligible to vote, Pacheco says she shared information on social media and encouraged friends and relatives to vote, too. She’s nervous about the outcome on Election Day and hopes the country can focus more on helping to ensure equality and justice for all.

Now that she is a citizen, Pacheco says it’s as if her soul is at rest.

“I definitely feel more confident in speaking to people,” she says. “I feel at peace, finally.”