SEATTLE — When Maria Gianni is knocking on voters’ doors, she’s not bashful about telling people she is in the country illegally. She knows it’s a risk to advertise to strangers that she’s here illegally — but one worth taking in what she sees as a crucial election.
The 42-year-old is one of dozens of volunteers — many of them illegal immigrants — canvassing neighborhoods in the Seattle area trying to get naturalized citizens to cast a ballot for candidates like Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who is in a neck-to-neck race with Republican Dino Rossi.
Pramila Jayapal, head of OneAmerica Votes, says the campaign is about empowering immigrants who may not feel like they can contribute to a campaign because they can’t vote.
“Immigrants really do matter,” Jayapal said. “If we can’t vote ourselves, we’re gonna knock on doors, or get family members to vote.”
So far the illegal immigrants going door-to-door aren’t meeting opposition. Craig Keller, an organizer for Respect WA, a group pushing for stricter immigration law in the Washington, said he doesn’t mind illegal immigrants volunteering for vote drives, he just wants to make sure mistakes on the voter rolls don’t allow them to vote.
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“There’s always a risk,” Gianni said in Spanish about her legal status. “But if there’s a change, I would feel like I contributed, even in a small part, to a change we all need.”
Gianni arrived in the United States on a visa 13 years ago looking for work and stayed. For a while her only son lived here, but has since moved back to Mexico.
“In order for there to be a change to our broken immigration system,” she said, “I believe one has to fight.”