Challenges to Voting and Civic Engagement
Because many East African immigrants have come to the US seeking refuge from war and instability, relatively few have college degrees.
This comes in contrast to immigrants from other parts of Africa, who tend to have higher formal educational opportunities than the average US-born citizen.
As a result, many East Africans face limited economic opportunities. Despite establishing a large number of small businesses in Twin Cities communities, 82% of Somali immigrants live below the poverty line.
A Sense of Impermanency
Some East African refugees have also described arriving in the US with a “suitcase mentality” - staying out of politics because they planned to return home as soon as the situation improves.
Discrimination, Racism, and Islamophobia
As Black Muslim Immigrants, Somali-Americans in Minnesota face discrimination on three intersecting fronts.
Many express frustration that the mass media have dramatized and exaggerated stories of Somalis leaving Minnesota to join ISIS, have depicted mosques as terrorist recruiting sites and have perpetuated negative stereotypes about Somali Muslims.
Some have responded to this pressure by withdrawing from the political sphere, disillusioned by a government which does not represent their community and a society which does not accept their religion and culture.
Legal and Language Barriers
Other challenges include election laws being proposed across the country. Stricter Voter I.D. laws make it harder for East African immigrants to register to vote, and restrictions on early voting limit their ability to reach the polls on a busy schedule.
Language is also a barrier to political participation: only 4 in 10 Somali immigrants reported being able to speak English “very well,” and although this was higher than most other immigrant groups in Minnesota, it is still lower than the general population.
Given that civic engagement information is primarily provided in English, this proves to be a significant barrier.
Currently, Minneapolis provides online election guides in Somali, which is an important part of working towards fair and accessible elections.