New US citizen refugees excited for first presidential vote

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Photo credit Bawi UK, 22, is photographed in his apartment in Providence, R.I., Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. UK was a small child when his parents fled Myanmar, leaving him and his siblings to be cared for by their maternal grandmother. UK said the family suffered discrimination as Christians in a predominantly Buddhist nation. The military government was also trying to forcibly conscript his father. "To run for office, you had to be a Buddhist; to rent a house, you had to be Buddhist," said UK, a social work student at Rhode Island College and a youth leader at the Refugee Dream Center, an advocacy organization in Providence. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

PHOENIX (AP) — They came fleeing war and persecution in countries like Myanmar, Eritrea and Iraq, handpicked by the United States for resettlement under longstanding humanitarian traditions.

Now, tens of thousands of refugees welcomed into the U.S. during the Obama administration are American citizens, voting the first time in what could be the most consequential presidential contest of their lifetimes.

With some states already sending out early ballots, the first-time voters from Arizona to Florida are excited but mindful of their responsibility in helping to choose the country's next leader. The winner will decide the future of the very resettlement program they benefitted from and that President Donald Trump has hollowed out and could halt altogether in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

“Most refugees come to this county escaping political systems where the government is not their friend,” said Hans Van de Weerd, vice president of resettlement for the International Rescue Committee, a top agency that brings refugees to the U.S. “To have their voices be heard is very powerful.”

Republican and Democratic administrations resettled an average 95,000 refugees annually over four decades, but the Trump government whittled that down to a cap of 18,000. Only about half that number have come in this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.