Elections

Naturalized Citizens Become First-Time Voters

By Samantha Mendoza, MNO 617.1, MNO 617.2

Published on November 8, 2016

Miriam and Bobby Gillett-Kunnath are first-time voters from Belize and India. (c) 2016 Samantha Mendoza

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (Democracy in Action)– The only thing brighter than Miriam Gillett-Kunnath’s multicolored scarf was the smile on her face as she exited the polling station at North Central Church on Buckley Road this morning. This was her first time voting in a presidential election– a moment that was particularly special for her as a Belize-born woman who gained U.S. citizenship two years ago.

“I think I wanted to cry,” Gillett-Kunnath said. “I was just overwhelmed.”

Gillett-Kunnath moved to Syracuse 12 years ago to earn a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at Le Moyne College. She eventually received her doctorate, became a research assistant professor at Syracuse University and was sworn in as a naturalized U.S. citizen in April 2014.

Gillette-Kannath went to the polling station this morning with her husband Bobby Kannath, also a naturalized citizen from Kerala, India. They said that voting this year was important to them because of discrimination they have faced throughout the election.

““When all the talk of racism and borders closing started, we thought this was a joke,” Gillett-Kannath said. “About halfway through [the election], it got uncomfortable to walk into some small rural areas. I felt a little cautious.”

Immigration reform has been a controversial issue throughout the campaign. One voter, Rose, a local from Syracuse whose grandparents came to America through Ellis Island, said that her belief in strengthening U.S. borders is one of the issues that influenced her vote this morning.

“It concerns me that we have all these people flooding the United States,” Rose said. “The fact is they are not true in their heart Americans. They want to just come here, live and reap all the benefits.”

Gillett-Kunnath and her husband hope to challenge misconceptions about immigrants and new citizens. She said that her status as a minority Hispanic woman has made her feel empowered to have her voice heard.

“We had to vote,” She said of her and her husband. “We are here. We want to be a part. This country has been great to us, and we’d like to contribute, too.”