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Immigrants Have Stake, But No Vote

Magaly Garcia swung her hips as she stepped left, left, right, right, then back to the middle at a Mexican dance club in Jackson Heights, Queens. Two bucks there buys a song, a lesson in the traditional dance Cumbia, and an earful of politics.

“Obama’s more for the people,” said Garcia, 22, in Spanish. “And he cares about the poor more than McCain.” Her dancing job at the Roosevelt Avenue club fetches enough cash to survive and to send home.

This election season, thousands of immigrants in New York have come home to a daily stream of presidential election coverage on television. From exotic dancers to taxi drivers, immigrants’ lives are affected by the shifting economy, and thus have a stake in the outcome of the election. But noncitizens can do little more to influence it than talk to friends, family and dance partners, and many don’t expect much from the government.

Jobs Are Key

“They can help the economy get more jobs,” said Garcia, who moved to the U.S. three years ago from Mexico City without government approval or her newborn son, Armando. “But I don’t think they’ll be able to help people without papers.”

On Election Day, 45-year-old Olga Flores wore a black bomber jacket and scanned a long line of people stretching down a Williamsburg, Brooklyn sidewalk. But she was not looking at a polling line. Rather, she was staring at her competition. She and other women from Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Poland waited for local residents who need their houses cleaned to hire them. Not many came.

Flores moved to New York 20 years ago from Mexico City and has no legal standing. She vented in Spanish.
“What kind of opinion can we have? We have no voice or vote,” she said. “If there was a way to vote, I would vote for change.”

Not every noncitizen shared Flores’ vision. Taxi driver Asif Raqiq, a 36-year-old from Pakistan, would vote for McCain if he could. He felt Republicans could better handle it “If something were to happen, say with Pakistan,” and added that McCain “would be very cool minded.”

As Raqiq waited for a fare at LaGuardia Airport, his body tensed at the mention of the Democratic candidate.
“Obama’s very young, inexperienced,” he said. “You can tell by the way he talks.”

A mile away, near the 82nd Street stop on the No. 7 line, a Brazilian exotic dancer named Patricia chatted on a smoke break. She declined to reveal her last name. A rhinestone bra peeked out from under her faux-fur collared jacket.

Patricia came to the United States three months after she lost her job as a factory manager in Brazil. She pointed to her white leather purse, which she said was made at the factory she ran in Minas Gerais, a central Brazilian state, and said she hoped a change in government would help her return to the industry.
“Obama will bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.,” she said.

Call For Representation

Bryan Pu-Folkes, a Jackson Heights attorney and founder of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, an advocacy organization, feels immigrants should be politically represented.
“Why shouldn’t they have a say in the laws?” he said. His group supported a City Council bill that would allow legal non-citizens to vote in New York City municipal elections. The bill stalled in 2006, but Pu-Folkes plans to carry on the effort. He added that even illegal immigrants contribute to the economy by paying sales tax.

Juan Carlos, a 30-year-old dishwasher from Guatemala, passed out menus on the sidewalk for a Jackson Heights Indian restaurant. He explained why he felt Obama’s immigration policy would make him the better president.

“He’ll make it so everyone’s free to work,” Carlos said in Spanish, adding play on words that suggested the candidate was intelligent and worked for the people: “Intellegente y por la gente.”

Sandra C. Roa contributed to this article.