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Haitian Immigrants Celebrate Journey to Active Citizenship

Haitian immigrants in South Florida are making the transition to active citizenship with the help of Project Smart Vote. Credit: Bryan Vana, AFSC
Haitian immigrants in South Florida are making the transition to active citizenship with the help of Project Smart Vote. Credit: Bryan Vana, AFSC
November 18, 2015

MIAMI – They listened, they studied and they passed the test. Now, dozens of Haitian immigrants are ready to celebrate their American citizenship and do their civic duty.

Paul Mondesir, an organizer with the American Friends Service Committee, has been working with the group for months through an initiative called Project Smart Vote, which aims to help immigrants and refugees with the naturalization process and beyond.

According to Mondesir, that means educating them about their responsibility to make informed choices when they vote in all elections, from federal to state, and even local races and issues.

"I think this is more important, maybe sometimes, than the presidential election," Mondesir said. "I motivate them to not vote by emotion – to vote by knowledge, to make sure their vote will be a smart vote."

Today, dozens of recent graduates of the program and their friends and families will gather for a Citizenship Celebration in Miami. South Florida is home to the largest Haitian community in the United States.

With immigration reform and refugee policies taking center stage right now, Mondesir said his hope is that people will remember that the same dream that has brought people to this country since its very creation still exists today.

"They are looking for opportunity," he said. "When we talk about opportunity, we talk about work, we talk about health care, we talk about some type of education for the children. We talk about helping the family."

The American Friends Service Committee first launched Project Smart Vote in August 2011. Since then, hundreds of students have gone on to take and pass the U.S. Naturalization Exam.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL