ARIZONA NEWS

New US citizen refugees in Arizona excited for first presidential vote

Sep 28, 2020, 6:46 AM | Updated: 6:50 am
New U.S. citizen Jad "Jay" Jawad, owner of the Crepe House Cafe, who came to the U.S. as a refugee ...

New U.S. citizen Jad "Jay" Jawad, owner of the Crepe House Cafe, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from war-torn Iraq, poses for a picture in his cafe on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Phoenix. He said that during presidential elections in his native country, Saddam Hussein was the only candidate on the ballot and the only real option was "yes," because a "no" vote could get you jailed or worse. Now, he said he is looking to voting freely in his first U.S. presidential election this fall. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — They came fleeing war and persecution in countries like Myanmar, Eritrea and Iraq, handpicked by the United States for resettlement under longstanding humanitarian traditions.

Now, tens of thousands of refugees welcomed into the U.S. during the Obama administration are American citizens, voting the first time in what could be the most consequential presidential contest of their lifetimes.

With some states already sending out early ballots, the first-time voters from Arizona to Florida are excited but mindful of their responsibility in helping to choose the country’s next leader.

“This is the first time I will practice democracy,” Bilal Alobaidi, formerly of Iraq but now living in Phoenix, said. “I can’t wait.”

The winner will decide the future of the very resettlement program they benefitted from and that President Donald Trump has hollowed out and could halt altogether in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

“Most refugees come to this county escaping political systems where the government is not their friend,” said Hans Van de Weerd, vice president of resettlement for the International Rescue Committee, a top agency that brings refugees to the U.S. “To have their voices be heard is very powerful.”

There are no voter registration figures for refugees, but the National Partnership for New Americans predicted that 860,000 immigrants of all kinds would gain that right this year by becoming citizens even in the face of barriers like an 83% increase in naturalization fees, from $640 to $1,170.

Through its citizenship classes, the International Rescue Committee has helped around 6,000 refugees and other newcomers become Americans each of the last few years. Other groups have also helped refugees become naturalized.

Department of Homeland Security figures in recent years have shown refugees and asylum-seekers are the immigrants most likely to gain citizenship, with a naturalization rate of over 70% during their first decade in the country. Refugees can apply for citizenship after five years as permanent residents.

Once they become Americans, they can register and vote.

“So many want to vote this time,” said Basma Alawee, a refugee herself and an organizer for the Florida Immigrant Coalition who has been holding webinars helping other refugees prepare for Election Day.

Alobaidi recalls elections in Iraq under Saddam Hussein when only the leader’s name was on the ballot. The only possible choices were “yes” or “no.”

“And if you said ‘no,’ something bad could happen to you,” said Alobaidi, who arrived in the U.S. in December 2013.

He was resettled in a desert city with sweltering weather like that of his hometown Mosul, and was naturalized last year.

A former social worker with the International Organization for Migration, Alobaidi now works for the International Rescue Committee, helping other refugees in Arizona find housing and other services.

Alobaidi said he looks forward to voting for the candidate he chooses.

Nada Al-Rubaye said she never voted in her native Iraq, which she fled after her oldest son and several other family members were killed in the country’s widespread violence.

The Baghdad-born artist and another son spent a few years in Turkey, but in 2013 were settled in Phoenix.

A U.S. citizen since September 2019, she now paints landscapes featuring the red rock outcroppings of her adopted Arizona and sells her paintings and jewelry online.

“I am so excited!” she said about the upcoming election, flashing a broad smile.

“It’s so important for a person to feel like they belong to a country.”

Jad “Jay” Jawad was 17 when his family sought refuge in the U.S. from death threats and conflict in Iraq.

The Saddam Hussein government had targeted Jawad’s father as a manager at a hotel frequented by the U.S. military. The family resettled in Phoenix, where they all became U.S. citizens.

Jawad now runs a popular crepe restaurant in an upscale mall. He and his wife, also an American citizen born in Iraq, are expecting a baby next spring.

“When we left Baghdad, there was no democracy,” he said. “Here, you can be part of the change.”

Lifetime Windows & Doors

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images For The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)...
KTAR.com

Rock legend Stevie Nicks postpones Phoenix concert on doctor’s orders

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer/songwriter Stevie Nicks has postponed her Thursday appearance in her hometown because of illness, promoters said.
13 hours ago
(Facebook File Photo/Phoenix Police Department)...
Kevin Stone

Phoenix’s Operation Gun Crime Crackdown extended after nearly 1,200 firearms seized

Law enforcement agencies in Phoenix are extending Operation Gun Crime Crackdown after nearly 1,200 firearms were taken off the streets during the pilot program’s first three months.
13 hours ago
(Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)...
KTAR.com

2 US citizens arrested for smuggling horse trailer full of migrants into Arizona

Two U.S. citizens were arrested in southern Arizona last week after more than 33 migrants were found inside of a horse trailer, authorities said.
13 hours ago
(Facebook Photo/Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport)...
Griselda Zetino

New air traffic control tower is big part of Mesa Gateway Airport’s future growth plan

The new air traffic control tower at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport has been operating for more than a month now, replacing one that dated back more than half a century.
13 hours ago
(Flickr Photo/Arizona Department of Transportation)...
KTAR.com

Wrong-way driver dies in crash on Loop 101 in West Valley

One person was killed and two others injured in a wrong-way crash on a West Valley freeway late Tuesday, authorities said.
13 hours ago
(Arizona Department of Transportation Photo)...
KTAR.com

Arizonans encouraged to submit ideas to ADOT’s name-a-snowplow contest

Arizonans have until Oct. 13 to submit entries for ADOT's name-a-snowplow contest. ADOT will choose 10-15 finalists for the public to vote on.
13 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
New US citizen refugees in Arizona excited for first presidential vote