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How New CItizens — And First-Time Voters — Feel About The 2016 Election


Millions of Americans will cast their first votes this November, young people who were born here and have turned 18 but also new U.S. citizens who've worked and studied to win their constitutional right to vote. We're now honored to be joined by three new U.S. citizens. Erik Corcoran, he was born in Ireland, came to the U.S. with his family when he was 8. He became a citizen earlier this year and joins us from Columbia, S.C. Thanks for being with us.

ERIK CORCORAN: Great to be here.

SIMON: Stephanie Zamora is in Tucson, Ariz. She's originally from Mexico, came to this country when she was 3 and also became a citizen this year. Miss Zamora, thank you for joining us.

STEPHANIE ZAMORA: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And our third guest, Mirai Booth Ong. She was born in Japan, and she came to the United States when she was 18. She became a citizen in 2014 and joins us from Burbank, Calif., on Skype. Thank you very much for being with us.


SIMON: And let me ask all three of you, what will it mean for you to vote in a U.S. election - Erik?

CORCORAN: You know, it's a dream come true, you know, for 18 years, thinking about it, praying about it. You know, I remember seeing people come out, you know, year after year with I Voted stickers and me saying, gee, I'd love to wear that sticker. You know, when I got sworn in, it was a very emotional day, and it really was a moment I almost thought would never come...

SIMON: Yeah.

CORCORAN: ...But was truly powerful for me.

SIMON: Stephanie Zamora?

ZAMORA: I feel the same way. I wasn't old enough to vote in the last election, so it wouldn't have mattered anyway, but I'm old enough now. And I made it a point to be able to vote this year 'cause I feel like it's such a crucial election for a lot of minority groups. So I'm very excited to be able to vote and to encourage others to vote as well.

SIMON: Mirai Booth Ong, what does it mean to you?

ONG: This is so important to me. It's not only the first time I'm voting here in the U.S., but it's the first time I'm voting anywhere. It's the first time I'm living in a country of which I'm a citizen. And it's so important to feel like you're being heard, and that's what living under democracy is all about.

SIMON: Yeah. Do you all know who you're going to vote for?

ZAMORA: (Laughter).


ONG: Yes (laughter).

SIMON: Anybody want to volunteer? I mean, you know, as you know, the ballot's private in this country.


SIMON: Erik Corcoran.

CORCORAN: I'll be voting for Donald Trump. And, you know, I started off actually working for Rick Perry and gave my heart out for him and his campaign, then went to Ted Cruz all the way to Indiana, had pneumonia in Fort Wayne at the very end of the campaign and gave it all I had. And I look at the future of this country, which means a whole lot more to me than personalities, and coming from Europe, I don't see a whole lot of freedom there anymore. But in America, there is the freedom of religious liberty and the freedom to be who you are as an individual. And so I will be casting my vote for Donald Trump.

SIMON: Stephanie Zamora, I'm told that you felt the Bern.

ZAMORA: I did feel the Bern for a really long time. And it kind of hurts to see him not get the nomination. But the point of his campaign was to awaken the masses and make people aware that there's certain structural and systemic inequalities in place. But that being said, he isn't the Democratic nominee. And at this point, I'm leaning more towards Hillary.

SIMON: Mirai Booth Ong?

ONG: Yes.

SIMON: Do you want to tell us how you might be leaning?

ONG: I will be voting for Hillary Clinton in this election. If we had a job description and we were all hiring managers for a company, you know, the job of a president involves diplomacy and international relations and being able to make those ties across not only party lines but international lines. And I just - I think we're actually privileged to be able to have the opportunity to vote for someone who's actually been in the Situation Room before, who knows what the job entails before taking it.

SIMON: I wonder how all of you might think your political attitudes might have been shaped by your experiences as immigrants.

CORCORAN: Massively. Going through the current immigration system has been a nightmare for me. You know, a couple years ago, I wanted to go to my brother's wedding, and the immigration department had asked me to renew my green card, which I did everything they told me to do. They not only did not send it to me, they destroyed it and said if you leave the country, you probably won't be able to get back in.

Not only that, but there's been probably six or seven times that this federal government has failed to help someone who wanted to become an American and yet allow people who are not doing it in a way to honor America to come right on in. And that's why with Donald Trump and with this election, we've got to change things. You know, American taxpayers are paying these bureaucrats to do nothing. And that grieves me as someone who couldn't wait to become an American.

SIMON: Stephanie Zamora?

ZAMORA: Well, I'm from Arizona, so the anti-immigrant sentiment here is very strong. It has always been since I can remember. I remember my parents going to immigration reform rallies when I was little, people getting pepper sprayed, just really violent. And then the policies here are really violent, as well, SB 1070, which pretty much racially profiled anyone that looked undocumented, and I don't really know what that looks like to begin with. So there's just a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment here, and I feel like I need to work as hard as I can to reverse that or try to change that here.

SIMON: Mirai Booth Ong?

ONG: Not having grown up here as an immigrant, I don't have...

SIMON: You grew up in Singapore, I gather.

ONG: I grew up in Japan and Singapore. I went to international schools my whole life. And having that kind of international education, what really shocked me when I first came to university here was kind of an indifference that my peers had towards the election. I really encourage people to vote whatever way they want to.

And I think making informed decisions is the most important thing because how else can you pick a candidate who's aligned with your own values if you hadn't taken the time to research the issues and know what your own values are?

SIMON: We thank all of you and look forward to each of you casting a first vote. Thanks very much for being...

ZAMORA: Thank you.

ONG: Thank you so much.

CORCORAN: Thank you so much.

SIMON: ... For being with us and part of this country. Erik Corcoran, Stephanie Zamora, Mirai Booth Ong, all new citizens who will be first-time voters. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.