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Feb 10th

ECHO Minnesota hosts “The New American Vote” panel discussion featuring community and government leaders

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new_american_voteWednesday October 26th, 2011 marked the third annual panel discussion hosted by non-profit ECHO Minnesota, a well-known resource for health, safety, emergency, and civic information for immigrants, refugees, and community members. This year’s topic, “The New American Vote,” explored the current state and future political strength of new citizens. Panelists included Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Hussein Samatar, the first Somali-American ever elected to office, Ron Lezema, Co-Founder Hispanic/Latino Caucus of MN and John Keller, Executive Director of Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.  The discussion was facilitated by award-winning television journalist Robyne Robinson. She engaged the panelists in a dynamic discussion on the necessity of involving Minnesota’s diverse communities in the democratic system.

The panel emphasized that every vote makes a difference and for new citizens, many of whom did not have the freedom to vote in their native countries, voting in the 2012 election will be the first time they participate in choosing their own governmental leaders. The panelists agreed that as Minnesota’s demographics continue to change, communities of color need to be welcomed into the political system. The overarching question asked, “How can we take new citizens’ desire and enthusiasm of engaging in the political system and make it a tangible process for them?” The panelist agreed that in order to achieve the aforementioned, intentionality is key. Culturally competent outreach and education are necessary to facilitate the transition from new citizens to active citizens.   The panel discussion can be viewed online at

Approximately 500,000 Minnesotans speak a language other than English with thousands of new Americans arriving in the state each year.  The panelists stressed that Minnesota and the nation must recognize that our new citizens are eager to actively participate in the political system, but there are still barriers they face including citizenship which is a long and complicated process. Learning the new culture, as well as the civic engagement process, takes time, outreach, access to resources, and education.

ECHO has been at the forefront of these issues, providing new Americans with information and resources so they can integrate into life in Minnesota, participate fully in the community, engaging in their civic rights and responsibilities.  ECHO has the capability to reach nearly 90% of new Americans in Minnesota. In 2010, ECHO reached 1.3 million immigrants, refugees, community members, and service providers through television, radio, internet, social media, and community outreach, with vital health, safety, emergency, and civic information.


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