JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – They came fleeing war and persecution in countries including Myanmar and Iraq for resettlement under longstanding humanitarian traditions. And now, tens of thousands of refugees welcomed into the U.S. in recent years are American citizens and are voting for the first time in what could be the most consequential presidential contest of their lifetimes.
Among them is Basma Alawee, a refugee from Iraq. In 2010, Basma’s life and her family were threatened because her husband was working with U.S. companies in Iraq. Leaving loved ones behind -- without being able to say goodbye to many -- they fled to safety in the U.S.
In 2016, Alawee became a U.S. citizen. Today, she is an activist and member of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a group encouraging other new citizens to vote in this year’s presidential election.
The opportunity to vote holds special importance for Alawee.
“I come from Iraq where you are born and live war and dictatorship, and for me, my voice never mattered in Iraq, because there was always one president who everyone should vote for,” said Alawee."This election is so special because this is my first presidential election, and I know my voice will matter.I will make sure that every vote cast in the 2020 election (matters)."
Many refugees come to this county escaping political systems where the government is not their friend. To have their voices be heard is very powerful.
“First of all, voting, sharing your stories, making sure you are integrated well with a new home and a new community,” Alawee said. “Voting could not just impact the new community here but we know that the U.S. foreign policy could affect other countries including Iraq.”
Alawee said these new American citizens need to embrace their responsibility.
“(It’s) not just for their new home here but also for their home where they came from,” she said. “And also because many of the refugees and immigrants have families who they have been waiting for. That could be an encouragement for them to vote for the leaders who understand and are pro-family unification.”
Alawee believes the fate of thousands of immigrants hinges on this election and they should feel empowered. She emphasizes they must feel empowered to vote and embrace a freedom they may not have enjoyed in the land they fled.
“That’s an encouragement for them, many of the citizens that I work with or I encourage them to vote,” Alawee said. “It’s not just a presidential election. There are a lot of other amendments and small elections that they need to make sure, even local leaders. We want to make sure that the leaders we are voting for really understand the values and the importance and the contribution of our refugees here.”
If you are a former refugee and a new American citizen looking for information as a first-time voter, you can reach out to “We are All America” and the Florida Immigrant Coalition at www.flic.vote for more information.