Only Weeks From the 2022 Midterms, Newly Naturalized Citizens in Washington State Can Play An Outsized Role in the Election Outcome
Local organizations join the national, non-partisan 2022 New American Voters Campaign to ensure that everyone eligible to cast a vote in their state can do so this November.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 26, 2022
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SEATTLE — Over 86,000 newly naturalized citizens in the state of Washington could play a deciding factor in the outcome of upcoming midterm elections, according to a new report released today by OneAmerica, the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) in collaboration with the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the U.S. Immigration Policy Center (USIPC) at the University of California San Diego.
This bloc of newly naturalized citizens — called New American Voters — is multiracial, multigenerational, geographically diverse, and majority female. Nearly 48% of these voters are from Asia, 22% from the Americas, 17% from Europe, and 12% from the African continent. The findings from the report are based on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data on naturalization from 2016 to 2020 and the agency’s approved naturalization applications in 2021.
Understanding the electoral power of this new voting bloc in Washington State, NPNA and SEIU have partnered with OneAmerica and the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs to encourage the newly naturalized citizens to register and vote through the New American Voters 2022 campaign. This is a non-partisan nationwide effort coordinated by the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) to educate, empower and encourage eligible folks to take the final step in a long immigration journey, though it is the beginning of a lifetime of civic engagement. Many people have naturalized just in time to vote in this year’s midterm election on November 8, 2022.
“As a Somali refugee and naturalized citizen who also ran for public office, I know all too well the crucial importance of naturalization, immigrant voter registration, and voter engagement,” says OIRA director Hamdi Mohamed. “That’s why my team and I are so passionate about celebrating citizenship and helping our most vulnerable residents successfully apply to be naturalized. This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of our New Citizen Program (NCP), one of the longest-running government programs of its kind in Washington state. To-date, NCP has helped over 11,000 individuals become U.S. citizens, a powerful voting bloc that can decide the outcome of local elections. And I imagine that perhaps even some of those individuals, like me, made the important decision to represent their communities by running for office. The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs renews our commitment to naturalization. And we are proud to partner with OneAmerica in encouraging new Americans both here and across the state to vote in this current election.”
“It’s time for immigrants to have our voices heard, both in our communities and – for those who’ve recently naturalized – at the ballot box,” said OneAmerica’s Executive Director Roxana Norouzi. “Right now, too often the people who represent us don’t look like our communities and don’t share our values. Newly naturalized citizens often aren’t contacted by candidates running for office and traditional get out the vote campaigns. But that’s changing. With our sister political organization, OneAmerica Votes, we’re building a rising immigrant electorate who are voting, running for office with a lived immigration experience, and co-governing with elected leaders to make sure our issues are at the forefront.”
“New American Voters are an emerging voting bloc. They are growing nationally – 1 in 10 U.S. voters are foreign-born as of 2020 – and most importantly, they are growing in politically important states. These voters hold varying ideologies and viewpoints and will be drawn to the polls by various issues and political ideologies. In Washington State, they could influence the outcome of upcoming midterm elections,” said Nicole Melaku, Executive Director of NPNA. “The stakes are high this year. With the current attempts to restrict our voting, our ability to control our bodies, and our civil rights, and with the anti-immigrant hate sentiment spreading across our country, it is of utmost importance that we encourage all eligible voters to ensure a fully participatory, representative democracy and cast their ballot in the next few weeks.”
This electoral season faces several challenges that keep many eligible New American Voters from exercising their voting rights. Voter suppression measures have taken many forms, including ongoing efforts to restrict access to voting, language access issues, and other issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, in recent years, the backlogs and processing delays of citizenship applications have become another form of voter suppression. According to the latest data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), more than 27,000 citizenship applications are backlogged in USCIS’s three Washington offices. Moreover, nearly 80% of the applications are processed within 14.5 months in USCIS’ Yakima office, and approximately 80% of applications are processed within 19.5 months in USCIS’ Seattle office – compared to the national average of 11 months.
The Washington State New American Voters report key findings include:
- Washington is home to 86,909 citizens naturalized between 2016 and 2020, approximately 20% of the state’s total number of naturalized citizens.
- Approximately 62% of Washington’s newly naturalized citizens are under the age of 45 and around 55% are women.
- The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area has the state’s highest concentration of all naturalized citizens – regardless of their naturalization year – at at over 470,000, followed by the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro metropolitan area, which includes parts of Washington and Oregon, with over 186,000, and then the Yakima metropolitan area with approximately 17,000.
About the Report’s Contributors & Endorsers
OneAmerica builds leadership and organizes grassroots leaders and our allies in key areas in Washington state to push for policy change, mobilize civic engagement in our communities and advocate for systems that welcome and include immigrants at every level. Learn more at weareoneamerica.org
Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs‘ mission is to improve the lives of Seattle’s immigrant and refugee communities by engaging them in decisions about the City of Seattle’s future and improving the City’s programs and services to meet the needs of all constituents. Learn more at seattle.gov/iandraffairs
The National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) is a national multiethnic, multiracial organization that represents 60 of the largest regional immigrant and refugee rights organizations in 40 states. Its members provide large-scale services for the communities, to leverage their collective power and expertise for a national strategy. Learn more at partnershipfornewamericans.org.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) unites 2 million diverse members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. SEIU members working in the healthcare industry, in the public sector and in property services believe in the power of joining together on the job to win higher wages and benefits and to create better communities while fighting for a more just society and an economy that works for all of us, not just corporations and the wealthy. Learn more at www.seiu.org
The U.S. Immigration Policy Center (USIPC) at UC San Diego conducts and supports rigorous social science research to advance understanding of the foundations and consequences of U.S. immigration policy. Immigration has played an integral role in American history and is sure to feature prominently in America’s future. But what should the immigration policies of our nation of immigrants be? The USIPC brings together leading academics, policy analysts, immigrant rights leaders, and policymakers across all levels of government to conceptualize, debate, and design a new U.S. immigration policy agenda that meets the demands of the 21st century. Learn more at https://usipc.ucsd.edu/