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In Latino Communities, Few Are Lukewarm About Chance to Vote

"And there needs to be financial aid for all these kids in our communities who want to go to [college] but don't qualify for aid just because they're Latino."

More than 8 million Hispanics are registered to vote nationwide. Here in Illinois, which voted for Al Gore in 2000, nearly 13 percent of the state's population are foreign-born.

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Focusing on immigration reform, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights launched a campaign to register 15,000 new voters by mid-September. When registrations exceeded expectations, the coalition increased the goal to 25,000 and met it by the Oct. 5 deadline.

That, said Joshua W. Hoyt, the coalition's executive director, is largely the result of immigrants' frustration with the snail-like pace that immigration and other federal laws set for making legal aliens eligible for federal grants and loans for college. Existing "path to citizenship" laws require, on average, eight years before naturalized U.S. citizens from Mexico can have their relatives join them in the United States. For Filipino immigrants, it takes 22 years, on average.

Similarly, federal welfare laws prohibit legal aliens from receiving federal grants and loans for college, although Illinois is one of several states that permit legal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition.

Fewer than one-third of the 76,000 Mexican immigrants who have moved to Illinois since 1980 have high school diplomas, according to Roosevelt University researchers here.

"People are furious," Hoyt said. "You have a community that is motivated to come out and vote in a way that it never has before."

In less than an hour at St. James, Guizarnotegui registered three new voters. He was pleased. "The Hispanic community is new at this," he said as he left the church. "But we're going to get where we need to go."

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