Eyewitness News spoke with 4 immigrants who recently became U.S. citizens and they say they couldn't be happier. These Utica residents became naturalized over the past few months. And tomorrow, like millions of Americans across the country, they will take part in the ultimate act of civic responsibility: They will vote.
"I got my citizenship because I wanted to vote," says Hector Estevez, Dominican Republican native and Utica resident.
"Need to have a voice and the only way we can be heard is with our vote," says Lorenza Estevez, Dominican Republican native and Utica resident.
Hector and Lorenza Estevez have watched Americans elect presidents for years. But that's all they could do, because they were not U.S. citizens.
"I'm over here over 40 years in this country and this is the first time I'm gonna vote.. I feel good," says Hector.
"I'm so excited because I think finally I have a voice voting and I'm gonna do it," says Lorenza.
Another pair of new citizens recall their experiences growing up in refugee camps in Thailand.
"I feel like I am in the prison," says Tha Dah Paw, Thailand native and Utica resident.
"You don't know what you're gonna do in the future, you don't know whats gonna happen next, if people deport you to Burma, you have to go back to Burma. There's no safety, there's no security," says Jenjira May Htoo, Thailand native and Utica resident.
They say before being naturalized in the U.S., they have never had a country to call their own.
"This will be the first time that I ever voted in my lifetime," says Jenjira.
"This is big opportunity for me. I feel free, we all equal, so everyone has a right. Now I feel like I am a real human," says Tha.
And Lorenza says she has one message to those who haven't been become U.S. citizens.
"Do it. Because we need to count and we need to talk and this is the only way they're gonna listen to us, voting. We make a difference," says Lorenza.
And these brand new voters do make up a large percentage of voters. Since the 2008 presidential election, more than 2 million people have naturalized, and became U.S. citizens.