Immigrant-Voter Drive Announced

By Sonya Geis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 10, 2006

LOS ANGELES, May 9 -- The same coalition of labor leaders, Latino activists, Catholic priests and radio deejays responsible for massive pro-immigrant demonstrations in Los Angeles described a new coordinated campaign on Tuesday that they hope will register 1 million new voters before the November elections.

Under the umbrella of the newly formed We Are America Alliance, organizers will make similar announcements in New York, Chicago and other cities, including a news conference in Washington on Wednesday. In Los Angeles, they gave details for the first time of a strategy voiced repeatedly during marches: "Ahora marchamos, mañana votamos" -- Today we march, tomorrow we vote.

"We need to reach out to our youth -- the first, second and third generation -- to make sure they vote," Spanish-radio deejay Renan Almendarez Coello, better known as "El Cucuy" or "The Bogeyman," said at a news conference.

Many of those who participated in the street protests cannot vote. About 60 percent of all Latinos in the United States are ineligible to vote because they are not citizens or because they are too young, according to the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California. Of those eligible, fewer than half vote regularly. Activists hope to encourage citizens who usually ignore elections to head to the ballot box, and they will push those who are almost citizens to complete their paperwork.

Immigrant advocates plan to collect postcards addressed to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) requesting a "path to citizenship" for immigrants. Immigrant leaders from several cities will converge on Washington on May 17, which they call "National Lobby Day," to deliver the cards and meet with their own congressional delegations.

The group hopes to influence senators working to craft new immigration laws before Memorial Day, said Angela Sanbrano, executive director of the Central American Resource Center. "The next two weeks are crucial for the immigration reform bill," she said.

House legislation would make it a felony to be in the United States illegally or to help illegal immigrants. The Senate has yet to pass its version of immigration legislation, but proposals under consideration include creation of a guest-worker program and a provision allowing those who have been in the country more than five years to apply for citizenship.

During the summer, immigrant advocates will encourage community organizations, union halls and churches across the country to become "immigrant action justice centers." Voter registration forms, citizenship information, letters addressed to politicians and phone numbers to call members of Congress will be available. The groups also plan to set up mobile information centers in high-traffic areas.

The next nationally coordinated day of street marches probably will be in early September, said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, adding that "we might have to do it earlier."

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