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Immigrant Cabbies Drive Democracy

By Alia Malik
Capital News Service
Thursday, Nov. 2, 2006
CNS-TV file photo
Abdulwasi Nuray, president of the United Cab Co.,  with one of the cabs that will give free rides to voters on Election Day. The 150 Ethiopian immigrants who drive for the company are volunteering for at least an hour that day. (Capital News Service photo by Abdul Kamus)

LANGLEY PARK, Md. - For low-income residents of Prince George's and Montgomery counties who can't afford transportation to polls on Election Day, Abdul Kamus has an answer: Take a cab.

Kamus is the executive director of the Washington-based African Resource Center, an African-immigrant advocacy group that has recruited more than 200 volunteer taxi drivers to provide free transportation for needy voters throughout metropolitan Washington.

In Maryland, 40 cars will serve Prince George's and Montgomery counties from the Langley Park offices of CASA de Maryland, which provides services for Latino immigrants.

"We don't want to see Americans who are becoming new citizens stay at home because they don't have transportation," Kamus said. "We want to make sure everyone has equal rights and has access to transportation to go vote."

Those who want a cab in the Maryland counties should call CASA in advance, said Anna Tigest Shiferaw of Takoma Park, the project's Maryland organizer. Cabs will operate from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday to avoid rush hour and so cab drivers can still earn money that day. Some drivers have volunteered to work as needed from 7 a.m. until the polls close.

Abdulrezak Abubaker, an Ethiopian immigrant and Silver Spring cab driver for United Cab Co. in Washington, spent his primary night driving around the District with no passengers to show for it. Still, he said he's glad to do it again.

"Nobody is forcing me to," he said. "That's why I'm so excited."

The African Resource Center recruited cab drivers mostly from the African immigrant community, Kamus said. Kamus went to cab company managers and asked for volunteers, and many others came after seeing fliers that center volunteers distributed throughout greater Washington. A handful of African immigrants working at Pizza Hut Thursday delivered fliers to households along with pizza, Shiferaw said.

United Cab Co. President Abdulwasi Nuray said he's proud to support the voter ride program.

"The nation is very important for all of us," he said, "so we wanted to give the service."

Most of the drivers are still applying for citizenship and cannot vote, but in the meantime, the cab service is their way of getting involved, Kamus said.

"We are encouraging them to support and become volunteers, and we are trying to educate them about their duties and responsibilities," said Kamus, who emigrated from Ethiopia 22 years ago and is now a citizen. "We don't have democratic process back home."

It's also their way of furthering their own cause. Most of the drivers work for District-based companies but live in the suburbs, and under city law they cannot drive the cabs they own in Washington.

"They are feeling threatened and the only way they can make their voices heard is by participating," Kamus said.

The African Resource Center recruited 150 volunteer cab drivers to serve the District alone for September's primary elections, but only 80 people called cabs, Kamus said. Of those, most were native-born African-Americans.

Many of the people who hear of the service already have transportation or can walk to their polling places, said George Addae-Mintah, pastor of Agape Life Ministries, a Baptist church that meets at Scotchtown Hills Elementary School in Laurel.

Still, he sees it as a positive resource for immigrants.

"My only concern is that people might not be able to get to the polling station in time after work, and one thing I know about immigrants is that they work long hours and they think too much of their jobs," Addae-Mintah said. "Knowing that there are immigrants in this country who are willing to get people to the polls should motivate them."

 

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Banner graphic by Maryland Newsline's April Chan, incorporating original photos and images provided by Annapolis.gov and Ace-Clipart.com.

Copyright 2006 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.