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Vote, Because I Can't

October 18, 2012

image via Laney College website


“Did
you register to vote?” a female student greeted me with a big smile as I walked
through the center of Sproul Hall on campus.

“No,”
I quickly responded as I smiled back. “Would you like to register?” she said.
“It takes only several minutes. I can help you,“ she insisted.  “Sorry,
I’m late to class,” I half-lied.  

She
probably thought that I was lazy, apathetic, or ignorant. But that’s the
farthest from the truth. I wish I could tell her that I wanted to vote ever
since I turned 18. And, I wish I could have told her the reason I cannot vote --
because I am undocumented.

Ever
since I moved to this country from South Korea at the age of 11, I grew up just
like many other American students. I attended local public schools, learned
English, joined sports teams, and was involved in many different student
organizations.

I
eventually made my way to UC Berkeley after transferring from Laney College. In
college, I studied political science and became increasingly involved in
student government -- first as the student president at Laney, and later as a
student senator at Cal.

In
school, there were days when I spent endless hours at the library, studying,
researching, and learning about politics by reading a variety of magazines,
online articles, and newspapers. I continue to have political discussions with
my friends and instructors in class, as well as in student organization
meetings, and even during lunches and dinners. Sometimes I have had intense
debates during discussions, but I have always appreciated these moments because
it helped me develop a broader understanding of political system.

I
have even applied the political knowledge that I learned in school to the real
world, and took direct action to make changes.

For
example, when I was an Associated Students of University of California (ASUC)
Senator, I incorporated my knowledge and skills that I learned from school to
help manage and balance the ASUC’s $1.7 million budget, advocate for diverse
issues related to healthcare, affordable education, and academic services,
along with 19 other elected student Senators. As a Senator, I had the
privileged opportunity to vote and exercise my right on campus to make my voice
heard. It was truly an honor.

Though
I am integrated into American culture, our society does not allow me to have a
voice in the political system. Outside of the university, I am restricted from
running for any higher-level political office, with some exceptions such as
commissions, the school board, and a few others.

Even
after I graduate from the top public university with a degree in political
science, I cannot participate in the voting process. I am just one person, but
there are approximately 2.1 million DREAM Act-eligible students who have earned
or are pursuing a college degree in the US but cannot exercise the right to
vote. In addition, another 10 million undocumented people are barred from
voting.

Some
may argue that we do not deserve to vote because we are undocumented. 
This may sound logically reasonable, but it goes far beyond a matter of citizenship.
Whether documented or undocumented, there were times when African Americans,
women, and other underrepresented communities did not have the right to vote.

Even
today, many people are having a difficult time voting because of restrictive
laws intended to prevent them from exercising their right to vote. For
example, Tennessee’s voter ID law would restrict people from participating in
the voting process because significant proportions of underrepresented
communities do not possess government-issued photo identification, which means
minorities and low-income people could be further disenfranchised by this law.
Clearly, our current voting process is flawed. Thus, policy makers and elected
officials should encourage as many people in this country to participate in the
voting process as they can, instead of punishing them by creating
discriminatory laws against underrepresented communities. 

The
November presidential election is just around the corner. Though I am unable to
vote, I encourage others to vote in this critical election. Voting is a
basic right, a civic duty, and a responsibility as citizens in this country --
and we should not take it for granted. 

You
should vote because there are millions of undocumented immigrants like me who
want to vote but are unable to do so because of their immigration status.

You
should vote because your voice matters. If you do not vote, interest groups and
lobbyists could take advantage of the policymaking process to benefit their own
interests.

You
should vote because you can hold elected officials accountable as responsible
representatives, as they were elected to be.

You
should vote because people fought, and died for, the right to vote in this
country.  


You
should vote because there are many countries where people are still fighting
and sacrificing their lives to have that right.

Your
vote matters, your vote counts, your vote can change a person’s life.

***

You can pledge to be a DREAM Voter with United We Dream here.

Ju Hong
came from South Korea to the United States when he was 11 years old. Ju attended
Laney College in Oakland, CA, where he was elected as the first Asian
American undocumented student body president. He graduated from Laney
College with a 3.8 GPA and transferred to University of California, Berkeley. This
year, he graduated from Cal and is pursuing his master's degree in public
administration.

This article originally appeared in UC Berkeley's newspaper 'The Daily Californian'.

Contributor: 

Comments

Comments

"but it goes far beyond a matter of citizenship. Whether documented or undocumented, there were times when African Americans, women, and other underrepresented communities did not have the right to vote." . Your parents skirted immigration law. They knowingly BROKE the law. Please do not compare your parents to the above. I do not appreciate the fact your parents thought they were too good to follow US law while many others wait for their chance to come here legally. . "policy makers and elected officials should encourage as many people in this country to participate in the voting process as they can, instead of punishing them by creating discriminatory laws against underrepresented communities. " . The states have made it as easy as possible to get proper ID for voting. If making the effort to get that ID is too much trouble, then these put up citizens do not take their responsibilities very seriously. There are no armed guards at the door and many states offer help in getting the person to the center to get their ID. . If you wish to be taken seriously, your arguments should be serious, not a collection of cliches and distortions. . I have posted on this board about people in your situation. Punishment for illegal entry should be restricted to the parents with their children getting citizenship with minimal restrictions.
How do you know his parents entered the United States illegally? They could be on work visas.
I agree with LTE's comment. From your post you made it sound like the U.S. government owes you the right to vote. When Blacks and women couldn't vote it was because they were BORN into the category of non-voters and therefore was unfair because they did nothing wrong, but your parents broke the law coming here. I think being a CITIZEN to vote is a very adequate requirement to say the least.