New U.S. citizens exercise right to vote

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Three Biloxi women say the chance to either elect the first ever African American president or female vice president wasn't the only reason they were eager to cast their ballots on Tuesday. All three became United States citizens just this year.

Itza Escobar and Amarilys Selva-Castillo walked into a Biloxi voting precinct more than ready to become part of the American election process. Selva-Castillo is from Cuba, Escobar is from Panama. Both friends recently earned their United States citizenship.

"I do my citizenship in May and I'm excited to vote, to do my right," said Escobar.

Selva-Castillo said, "This is my first time. I became an American. I'm glad to be an American now."

Just down the road, a very happy Magda Leleaux prepared to cast her first vote as an American.

Leleaux said, "I was very excited. I woke up very early. It felt good. I felt that I was contributing to something very important of the United States."

Leleaux was born in a Dutch colony in South America. She's director of Catholic Migration & Refugee Center in Biloxi which helps immigrants attain U.S. citizenship. After more than 40 years living mostly in this country, she decided to become a citizen herself.

"I think it's time after so many years to become a citizen, because I love this country and here's where my husband and my children are from," said Leleaux.

The new citizens say since they've followed the candidates' platforms, making the right choice for them wasn't difficult.

"It was easy," said Escobar. "When it's the first time, you're very nervous. I was very nervous."

Selva-Castillo said, "I'm very proud to vote for the first time and I hope the Latinos go and vote because we need the Latinos' vote."

Immigration statistics show in 2007 more than 660,000 people became naturalized U.S. citizens.