Immigration has been a big issue in many political races this year. Conservative candidates have frequently promised a border wall and to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
Now the other side of the debate is trying to gin up as much enthusiasm for candidates who back their priorities.
The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition believes there’s untapped political support for immigrants in the state. That includes not only the more than 100,000 naturalized Tennesseans who are eligible to vote, but also their American-born children and people whose roots in the U.S. go back generations but who see immigration as a priority.
Many of these people have been put off by the rhetoric they’ve heard, says Stephanie Teatro, TIRRC’s co-executive director — some to the point of withdrawing from politics. She hopes to get them re-engaged.
“So while candidates in the primaries really tried to use immigration to scare voters, we’ve seen a different side of Tennessee and we know, from Memphis to Morristown, that Tennesseans want to see candidates stand up for immigrant families and our shared values.”
The group’s plans go beyond signing up voters. TIRRC will be issuing formal endorsements and campaigning for candidates who they say share their values on immigration.
Abey Lissane spoke at a crowded kickoff event earlier this week. He’s a board member with the Ethiopian Community Association and is trying to get more immigrants to exercise their right to vote.
He says he’s already registered 50 people.
“Practice, practice, practice,” he says. “You know, voting is one of the muscles.”
Julieta Martinelli contributed to this report.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Abey Lissane’s name.