YORK – Maria Elena
Betancur left her native Colombia
for the United States
14 years ago wanting a better life for herself and her young daughter. Today
she owns a juice bar in Queens, and her
daughter is attending college.
On Tuesday, she will
achieve another milestone.
"I will vote for the
first time," said Betancur, who became a U.S. citizen three years ago.
"I came to this country many years ago with my heart in my hands. It makes
me very happy to know that I can, for the first time … represent my own
Betancur, 39, is one of
many immigrants turned U.S.
citizens getting ready to cast their ballots in the party primaries for the
first time. Concerned with the poor economy, lack of access to affordable
health care and immigration reform legislation, she took her enthusiasm to the
streets on Sunday.
With the help of about 30
volunteers from a local branch of Make the Road New York, a Latino immigrant advocacy group, Betancur
canvassed her primarily low-income, minority neighborhood reminding registered
voters to get out and vote on Tuesday.
Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, handed out packets of information to her crew of
"We do it because
our community needs to build power," she said.
Almost a third of all New York City voters are
foreign born, according to John Mollenkopf, director of the Center for Urban
Research at the City University of New York. About 250,000 to 300,000
immigrants will vote on Tuesday, he estimated.
"It’s a very
interesting election for immigrants in New
York City, because Barack Obama is the child of an
immigrant and Hillary Clinton has worked on immigrant issues," Mollenkopf
Archila claims that her organization, which was created
last year with the merger of theLatin American Integration Center and Make the Road by Walking, has increased voter turnout by 25 percent in the
communities where it has been active.
The group has been out in
the community every day since the first week of January. Its members hope to
have knocked on at least 5,000 doors before Tuesday’s primary voting.
"We know how hard it
is for all of us to make that decision of leaving everything – leaving our
country – to come here," said Betancur, who plans to vote for New York
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary. "We need to create
the change we are so desperately waiting for."