80-year-old woman to vote for first time

TRENTON – An 80-year-old Trenton woman decided to become a U.S. citizen because she wanted to vote in this year’s election.

Gabriele Wallace has been living in the United States for 60 years. She moved to Trenton with her husband in 1955, raised three children and worked as a bank teller.

"Nobody would think I wasn’t an American. I think everyone always assumed I was an American," Wallace said.

Now, at 80 years old, she decided she wanted to officially become a citizen after hearing all the heated political talk surrounding this year’s election. She worked with Ruby Robinson from the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, who helped move the process along. The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center partnered with the adult literacy program at Southgate Public Schools to make a naturalization workshop.

"I’m quite opinionated about politics, so therefore it’s the right time I did this," Wallace said.

Wallace was forced to flee Germany with her mother and three siblings as a child and became a refugee. She believes that experience connects her to this year’s election and some of the topics.

"I understand all of these refugee problems and things because we were refugees, too. We fled from the Russians, so it was a very hard time," Wallace said.

Robinson said there have been hundreds of people who have received assistance to become citizens this year alone because of the political climate.

"This year we’ve probably helped well over 125 to 150 people become citizens. We have a lot of people who come to us to say they want to become a U.S. citizen because they want better jobs or they want to be able to bring family members to the United States, but certainly during this most recent election cycle, voting is one of the major reasons why people want to be citizens," Robinson said.

Robinson said the process can take four to five years, but once the citizenship application is submitted, it can take about three to four months to become naturalized. In Wallace’s case, the process moved much quicker because of her age and the amount of time she had been living in the United States.

"I had to take the test and things, but really when you get a certain age, they don’t make you remember too much," Wallace said.

"She was prepared and she was ready for it. She did not have a lot of red flags in her immigration history, so that made things go pretty quickly," Robinson said.

Wallace voted in the August primaries and is looking forward to voting in the general election for the first time in November.

"I needed to vote. It’s very important in this kind of time. This was just the right time. I want to vote and it’s important. Every vote helps," Wallace said.

The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center is holding another free citizenship workshop on Sept. 20 from 4-8 p.m. and is hoping to help more people become naturalized.

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