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The Convergence of Immigration, Voting Rights and Commitment to Democracy

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This moment of time in our nation’s history is ripe with opportunity to advance the promise of America or turn away from it. As a nation rooted in the immigrant experience, shall we embrace a path to citizenship? As people who stand proud and strong as we exercise our right to register and vote do our systems continue to protect that fundamental right?

These are questions I pondered recently as I attended state conventions and thought about the actions of the League of Women Voters at the community, state and national levels as we work every day to embrace these areas that are so quintessential to the American experience.

It struck me that the League doesn’t just ask others, like Congress to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform or the Supreme Court to continue to protect voting rights, we foster civic life and democracy through the very way we operate. Across the country, at annual meetings and state conventions, our members are electing their leaders and studying, debating and voting on positions that enable us to advocate on issues important to our communities and country.

It was refreshing recently to leave the gridlock of Washington, DC and attend a state League convention in California. What I saw could be a lesson for leaders in our nation’s Capital and for the practice of good governance. Imagine factual information shared, vigorous but civil discussion and debate on issues, and votes that lead to decisions actually being made.

I participated in a workshop where members learned about a local League project to develop relationships with immigrant communities to encourage them to vote and connect together around civic life.

It reminded me of the energy League members see when we register citizens to vote at immigration swearing-in ceremonies – a mix of sober respect and bubbly excitement – and of the promise of America that new immigrants hear as they are welcomed as citizens.

I so wished I could just take those in our country who are imprisoned in bitter partisan brinksmanship and “dip them” into the energy found in rooms filled with new citizens and plenary sessions filled with League volunteers, to remember and share the hopefulness and responsibility that is the promise of America.

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