I am an immigrant American. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, my family arrived in the United States piecemeal. My father was the first of us to settle here. Three years later, my mom joined him. Trailing her by four years, I immigrated to this country when I was 7.
From that young age, I learned that America would give to me only as much as I could give to America. That led me to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, then to the U.S. Army, then to law school at Washington University in St. Louis, and on to taking a leadership role in my community today.
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The benefits immigrants extend to the United States are real and often quantifiable. In Missouri, for example, immigrant-owned businesses employ more than 60,000 people, according to the 501(c)(4) nonprofit Partnership for a New American Economy Action Fund. Our economy would not be the same without the contributions of those born in other countries. But beyond the economic impact, immigrants contribute culturally, socially and more to Missouri as well.
However, there is another area where immigrants’ contributions are desperately needed in our state right now: participation in our democracy. In Missouri, we have 127,000 naturalized U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote. In 2016, the U.S. Senate race in Missouri was decided by only 78,000 votes.
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But we need immigrants to not only vote in our elections — we need them to run for office, as I am doing as the Democratic nominee for Missouri secretary of state.
Why put such an emphasis on immigrant participation? What can immigrants bring to the table that other Americans cannot?
We all know that the right to vote is sacred — it is the fundamental building block of our democracy. Without an engaged citizenry casting ballots easily, we become a democracy in name only. Immigrants like me had to earn our right to vote when we became citizens. We learned how important this sacred right is. Many of us came from countries where choice in elections is inaccessible or nonexistent altogether. Our intimate relationship with our American citizenship gives us an important perspective that many people who were born in this country are not able to experience.
That is an important part of why I am running for secretary of state. Not only did I have to earn my right to vote when I became an American citizen, but I also fought for our collective right to vote on my two Army tours to Kuwait — both before and in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
It is obvious that the political leadership currently holding power in our state is putting up barriers to voting for too many Missourians — including immigrant Americans. I am running to expand voting access in our state to ensure that every eligible Missourian can exercise this most fundamental right.
In a democracy, everyone has a responsibility to participate. Those of us who chose to become Americans share the same rights and responsibilities as our fellow citizens. If we want to restore the United States as a country that celebrates and welcomes immigrants as a vital part of the American dream, it is up to us to make our voices heard at the ballot box.
Read from source The Kansas City Star