Two of the new citizens who are voting for the first time this November aren’t just voting for themselves — they’re also voting for the undocumented immigrants who can’t vote.
In the battleground state of Nevada — where early voting numbers are indicating Latino and immigrant voters are energized — Alejandro is voting in his first Presidential election on behalf of his sister, who has DACA, and their parents:
The 19-year-old isn’t all that interested in politics, although he follows the news on Twitter and sometimes watches clips of debates on YouTube. But he couldn’t not vote, especially this year, with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. And especially since Erika has been pestering him about it for months.
“For the past week, it’s probably been every day,” he said at their house in North Las Vegas ahead of the early voting period in Nevada, which began Oct. 22.
Erika and their parents are undocumented. They moved to the U.S. from Mexico when Erika was 3 years old ― she’s 27 now ― before Alejandro was born. Erika is allowed to work and obtain a driver’s license under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which Trump has promised to strip from people like her.
Erika, like other undocumented immigrants, can’t vote. But she can have an effect on the election anyway, in the same way other undocumented immigrants are ― organizing, knocking on doors and making smaller-scale efforts, like urging U.S. citizen friends and family to take advantage of their right to vote.
Nevada is a prime location for this. With an estimated 210,000 unauthorized immigrants, it doesn’t have the largest undocumented population in the country ― California, for example, has more than 10 times that number. But undocumented immigrants in Nevada make up the largest proportion of the population of any state, at 7 percent to California’s 6 percent.
California isn’t a swing state; Nevada is. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton leads Trump in Nevada by only about 2.5 points, according to HuffPost Pollster, which aggregates publicly available polls.
Alejandro is supporting Clinton, who has vowed to protect and expand DACA, along with pushing for a path to citizenship for other undocumented immigrants.
“I vote because I know it’s important because of my parents,” he said. “I do it for my parents.”
In another battleground state, Florida organizer Thomas Kennedy is also voting for the first time on behalf of the undocumented community he was once a part of:
I married my spouse in 2011 and was able to gain residency. It was a life changer. I obtained a work permit and a Social Security card and with that, I was able to get a job and a driver’s license, apply for in-state tuition and financial aid, and move my life forward.
Even though my status has changed, my parents remain undocumented. And this weighs on me.
For undocumented people, small interactions that for many Americans would be inconveniences, such as a traffic stop or any contact with a government official, could lead to deportations that would rip families apart. Every aspect of your life, including your health, is affected when you are undocumented. My dad was diagnosed in 2014 with a form of degenerative arthritis that almost left him unable to walk, but his status prevented him from getting the treatment he needed. He was finally treated after almost two years of chronic pain and paid for his treatment through fundraising our family and friends did in our community.
That’s why I feel such relief today.
I will soon be able to let go of the fear, frustration and anxiety of living in the shadows for so long, and my parents will be able to one day also.
As a citizen, I will be able to petition for my parents’ residency and although I’m happy for my family, I reflect on the physical attacks and public disparagement that I’ve seen immigrants face growing up. The current level of vitriol directed towards the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. by the likes of Donald Trump has made things that much worse for such a group of hard working people.
I will always remember how hard my parents worked to overcome adversity and how badly they were treated for it. I feel confidence in the future though, when I think of the countless other immigrant youth who have a story similar to mine.
This will be the first time in my life I get to vote. And I -along with so many of my fellow Americans – will remember who our friends were when it counted the most for us and our families.
We will vote accordingly.