Days after hundreds of immigrants mobilized to the State Capitol…

 Chicago, Illinois – Today, March 7th, Governor Pat Quinn signed the “Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011” at an event co-sponsored by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC) in Chinatown at the Grand Hall of the Chinese American Service League with Asian, Latino, Polish, African, Arab and Muslim leaders, elected officials and community members. “Today is a very important day for immigrant communities,” said Lawrence Benito, ICIRR Deputy Director. “Communities that have been divided into multiple districts will now be more united and thus better able to elect candidates who represent their interests.”

 “We thank the Governor and bill sponsors Senator Kwame Raoul and Representative Barbara Flynn Currie for working hard to pass such important legislation,” said Tuyet Le, Executive Director of the Asian American Institute. “It will allow immigrant and other minority communities to have a fuller voice in government.”

 The Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011 (SB3976) passed unanimously out of the Senate Redistricting Committee in November and was overwhelmingly approved by the State Senate 53-4. The measure was subsequently approved by the House of Representatives at the beginning of January. The bill will require that in drawing Congressional and state legislative districts, the General Assembly shall draw three types of districts involving racial and language minority communities:
 —  „Crossover districts” where the minority is potentially large enough to elect the candidate of its choice with help from voters outside the minority;
—   „Coalition districts” where minorities could form a coalition to elect the candidate of their choice; and
—-   „Influence districts” where a minority can influence an election outcome even if its preferred candidate cannot be elected.
 One community that will be directly benefit from this bill is Chicago’s Chinatown which is currently divided into four wards, four state representative districts, three state senate districts, and three Congressional districts. “We are thrilled to welcome the Governor to Chinatown for the signing of this bill because it confirms widespread recognition of the need to change the existing legislative maps of Chinatown,” said Bernie Wong, President of the Chinese American Service League (CASL).  “We have been working from the beginning to champion this legislation that will allow us to elect candidates that represent our community’s interests.”

 The most recent census figures show that the Chinatown population has increased by more than 50%.  Furthermore, community organizing efforts led by CBCAC have succeeded in tripling the number of Chinese American registered voters in this area since a decade ago. In the recent municipal elections, voter outreach efforts succeeded in significantly increasing voter turnout in five of the seven precincts where volunteers contacted voters—in some precincts by as much as 34%. Yet, “Even though there are rapidly increasing numbers of Chinese voters and residents, we are so cut up that our collective voting power, along with accountability of elected officials and attention to issues, are greatly diminished.” said CW Chan, Chair of CBCAC.

 In addition, leaders from diverse communities thanked the governor for ensuring that funding directed to immigrants and refugees will not be affected by the proposed cuts. “We are very grateful to Gov. Quinn for committing to continue funding programs directed to our communities,” said Maria Pesqueira, ICIRR Board Vice president and Executive Director of Mujeres Latinas en Acción. “It shows that our elected officials value the contributions of immigrants and the need to support growing communities that are becoming more important to the political process and direction of our state.”

 The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is a statewide coalition of 130 organizations dedicated to promoting the rights of immigrants and refugees to full and equal participation in the civic, cultural, social, and political life of our diverse society. For more information, visit