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Opinion
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Guest Column
How I went from undocumented immigrant to registered Florida voter | Column
I became a DACA recipient, got my college degree and my citizenship and came back to Tampa to live.
People hold flags during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' administration of the Oath of Allegiance ceremony at the Los Angeles Public Library, Mark Taper Auditorium in Los Angeles, in October 2021.
People hold flags during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' administration of the Oath of Allegiance ceremony at the Los Angeles Public Library, Mark Taper Auditorium in Los Angeles, in October 2021. [ HANS GUTKNECHT | Los Angeles Daily News ]
Published Oct. 6

I recently became a U.S. citizen and I’m looking forward to voting in the upcoming midterms. I’m excited to see the impact of new citizens like me on the outcome of the elections. Over the last seven years, five million new U.S. citizens have naturalized. Now we’re eligible to vote.

Our growing electorate stands to change the power and recognition of immigrants. Naturalized citizens like me now make up one in 10 eligible voters in America. We compose 25% of all Latino voters. It’s a doubling of the immigrant electorate since the year 2000.

I’ve lived in the United States since moving here from Peru in 2003. I spent a lot of time undocumented, although I didn’t know what “undocumented” meant until I was in high school. It’s when my friends started talking about driving and getting jobs. I would talk to my parents and they’d tell me, “Well, you can’t do that.”

Then the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order happened. I became a DACA recipient for a couple of years and that’s how I got to college. I was lucky enough to get a full tuition scholarship to a college in western Massachusetts. Because of the scholarship, I didn’t have to worry about having to pay international fees. I resolved my paperwork and became a permanent resident. Then in January 2021, I became a citizen. Now I’m back in Florida, which I regard as home.

I’ve always been an advocate for my friends. In high school and college I was active in local government. I wanted to spread the word because I couldn’t vote. So, I would ask my friends to go out and vote and engage on issues. I would do voter phone banks. I would reach out to local legislators. I would see issues showing up in my community that I cared about — from mass shootings to the economy. I cared about education. I cared about health. I cared about fairness. And it was disheartening to know that my voice couldn’t speak at the ballot box.

It was also disheartening to see my friends shrug off voting as if it weren’t a big deal. To them, it was a piece of paper they would fill out and forget about. Having been an undocumented immigrant for so long, I saw a lot of policies impacting us as a community. So: Voting hit different. As a non-voter, I did what I could to mobilize and inspire voters. Now, as a voter, I’m excited to help other naturalized citizens vote.

When you get your citizenship, they don’t explain in detail how to vote. They don’t explain how to get registered. I was lucky enough to go to graduate school in Miami, and they were registering college students. That’s how I enrolled. Now I’m trying to figure out how to vote in my district. I want to make sure other people like me recognize their privileges.

We have this power to make our voice heard. Politics is at polar opposites right now. But in Florida, a state with so many immigrants, and so many new citizens, we can flex our voting rights.

Marisol Fernandez grew up in Miami and lives in Tampa.

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