June 18, 2015

60% of New York City residents speak a language other than English at home, not including Brooklynese

Press confrences on the steps of City Hall announcing grandiose schemes are as common in New York as grimy subway cars. Unfortunately, most of them turn out to be little more than photo ops for politicos and community leaders.
Hopefully, last Thursday’s launching of the “Engaging Immigrant New York City” campaign will be an exception to this sad tradition.
Billed by its organizers at the Civic Engagement Collaborative (CEC) as an initiative to mobilize immigrant New Yorkers in preparation for the 2016 Presidential elections, New York needs the new campaign to be an effective effort.
After all, this is a city where nearly 40% of the residents are foreign-born, over 60% speak a language other than English at home, and about 20% — or 1,480,072 — of all registered voters are naturalized citizens or the U.S.-born children of immigrants.
“Engaging immigrant voters in the electoral process offers a unique opportunity to change the dynamics of civic engagement in the city,” said Murad Awawdeh, of the New York Immigration Coalition. The NYIC is the facilitator of the CEC, a collective of community and social service groups that works to increase civic engagement and modernize New York’s election system.
With these goals in mind, the CEC, along with City Council members Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), Ydanis Rodríguez (D-Washington Heights), and Helen Rosenthal (D-Upper West Side), makes three useful and achievable policy recommendations. 
First, increase accessibility of the electoral system by improving access to information, educating and engaging immigrants and all New Yorkers.  The Mayor's office, Awawdeh said, is working to translate voter registration forms into the nine more common languages. The Board of Elections and Campaign Finance Board should also provide voter education materials in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu.
Second, the Student Voter Registration Day, launched March 20 in 25 high schools, should become a citywide program. With Presidential elections around the corner, this program, which t educated more than 10,000 students and registered 2,000 new voters the day it was launched, is urgently needed to combat abysmally low voting turnout among city youth.
Third, the City Council should expand participatory budgeting as a way to expand democracy and engage more people — including immigrants — in the decision-making process involved in spending city taxpayer dollars in local communities.

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