The League of Women Voters of Cass County welcomed four new American citizens yesterday at The Bridge Community Church in Logansport — home to The Bridge Church, Immigrant Connection Legal Office and the Intersection Coffee Shop.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of immigrants take part in citizenship ceremonies — also known as naturalization ceremonies — in cities and counties across the country.

The League’s mission rests on the premise that civic participation is central to improving the systems of government that shape the public policies affecting American lives. To this end, they believe it is critical to bring voter registration opportunities to all eligible citizens — which makes citizenship ceremonies a key opportunity to engage new voters and start them on the path to lifelong involvement in our democracy.

League member Elizabeth Billman spoke about it being an honor to provide firsthand information on the fundamental American right to vote.

“One way to participate in government is to vote in elections,” Billman said. “Voting is both a citizen right and responsibility.”

Many Leagues have worked for years to offer voter registration at citizenship ceremonies. This has the potential to greatly increase the number of new Americans who are registered to vote, in turn leading to increased turnout rates at the ballot box and further civic engagement in the community — giving them a voice in national and local public policy.

As of spring 2016, the national League was aware of nearly 100 local and state Leagues that are working to engage new citizens in voting.

“A citizen cannot vote unless they are registered,” Billman continued. “Part of our intent here today is to help people register — in fact, we just finished a registration for a gentleman who had to leave early.”

A study undertaken by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2011 found that naturalized citizens have not been participating in elections on par with native-born Americans. In 2008, a year of historic turnout generally and enormous interest in the election, the turnout numbers for naturalized citizens barely improved relative to previous elections.

The significant difference in turnout rates between native-born and naturalized Americans is due in large part to the disparities between the number who are registered to vote. Overall, turnout rates between native-born and naturalized citizens who are registered to vote have been virtually equal since 2000.

Logansport Mayor Dave Kitchell congratulated the city’s newest citizens and presented them with their own City of Logansport seal.

“To our new citizens here today and to everybody that’s come to our country and our community, we embrace you, we embrace what you’re doing and we’re here to support you as citizens,” Kitchell said. “This is our City of Logansport seal — not only are you officially a citizen of the United States, most importantly, you’re a citizen of the City of Logansport.”

Kitchell also thanked several city council members who were in attendance for their support.

League President Mary Burrous spoke about seeing the “true spirit” of the United States in Logansport’s newest citizens.

“Each person here can see a bit of themselves, as we each came from somewhere or at least or ancestors came from somewhere, and took that same, solemn oath,” Burrous said. “We are so very proud of you.”

According to LWV’s partner Demos, there were 38 million immigrants living in the U.S. as of 2008, of which 43 percent were naturalized U.S. citizens. By those numbers, nearly one out of every four people in the United States in 2008 was either an immigrant or the child of an immigrant.

“As you look around the room — look at all these people — they are here to honor you and the hard work you have put into become citizens,” Burrous said. “Congratulations, and welcome.”

The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan political organization encouraging the informed and active participation of citizens in government. It influences public policy through education and advocacy.

The Bridge seeks to connect cultures and languages through their multi-ethnic, multi-lingual church. Additionally, they help immigrant refugees navigate the complex immigration journey by connecting them to their Department of Justice-recognized, low-cost legal services.

Reach Quentin Blount at quentin.blount@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5130.

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