One of the reasons it took Cabral so long to become a citizen, he said, is because police caught him with a bag of marijuana back in 2004 before the drug became legal in Massachusetts and it slowed down his naturalization process.
“I was a knucklehead..you know when you’re young you do a lot of stupid stuff,” Cabral said. Now he credits God for being clean and sober.
With his citizenship Cabral said he feels like he has both feet down in the United States and he’s a part of it.
Cabral was one of many newly naturalized citizens to vote this week.
The Washington Post reported that naturalized citizens numbered 23.2 million, or 1 in 10, Americans eligible to vote this fall and newly naturalized citizens in 10 battleground states exceed the margin of victory from Trump’s 2016 election in those states.
Helena DaSilva Hughes, executive director of the Immigrants Assistance Center in the city, said newly naturalized citizens vote at a higher rate than citizens born in the country.
Hughes said in many cases the newly naturalized citizens were not able to vote in their home countries and being able to vote, “is very powerful for them…they take it very seriously.”
The Immigrants Assistance Center works to help newly naturalized citizens with the voting process and Hughes said there was a lot of misinformation and confusion this year because some newly naturalized citizens were told they were not eligible to vote in this election, which was not true.
The Washington Post reported some U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials in Massachusetts mistakenly told new citizens at recent naturalization ceremonies that they were ineligible to vote because the Oct. 24 registration deadline has passed.
In reality, state law allows new citizens to register until 4 p.m. the day before an election if they become citizens after the deadline to register.
Hughes said she personally had naturalized citizens tell her they couldn’t vote in this election and she had to tell them they actually had until Nov. 2 to register.
The pandemic has also created a backlog at USCIS and Hughes said some people were afraid they were not going to become citizens in time to vote.
While Cabral said he wasn’t confused over whether or not he could vote, he was initially nervous he wouldn’t become a citizen in time.
In addition to making sure newly naturalized citizens are registered, Hughes said the Immigrants Assistance Center has been helping them understand the ballot questions and understand how voting works.
“We want to make sure people have those tools,” she said.
Raquel Bourguignon, 49, became a citizen in July of last year and chose to vote by mail.
“To me [voting is] very important,” Bourguignon said, “I know a lot of people from my community, immigrants, they don’t have the same rights…they can’t have their voices heard. So I think it’s a pleasure to vote because this way I can represent my community as an immigrant and as a woman.”
Bourguignon followed her parents to the United States from Brazil in March 2003 because she said she wanted a better life for her and her family and called the naturalization process, “a long journey” and “”not an easy one.”
Becoming a citizen was a “double gift” Bourguignon said, because when she became a citizen her son Victor Goncalves became a citizen as well.
Goncalves, who was born in Brazil and is now in his first year at Harvard University, voted for his first time on Tuesday up in Boston, according to Bourguignon.
“I could not be happier, first because I gave him citizenship..and also because I gave him the right to vote and choose what he wants for the future,” Bourguignon said.
The mother of two, whose second son was born in the United States, said people are seeking change now more than ever.
“If we don’t do anything, nothing is going to change so we have to participate,” Bourguignon said.
Read the article at SouthCoastToday.com