For millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, the electoral process is nothing more than a spectator sport.
Some have felt that they’ve been used as political pawns for the last four years, targeted by racist statements made by Trump and the anti-immigration policies of his administration. But other members of that community say that local activism is more impactful than voting and will continue to do so far beyond the 2020 election – regardless of the outcome next Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Gabriela Hernández, director of the Long Beach Immigrant’s Rights Coalition, says that the racist, antiimmigrant attitudes attributed to the president have long existed, though swept under the rug.
“For me, the last four years have really been like, in your face, but this has been going on for a long time,” says Hernández, 30. “Communities have been caged for a long time, families have been separated for a long time.”
“People have been struggling and not had access to adequate health care, housing or food for a long time,” added the Long Beach resident, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) beneficiary.
When the administration moved to rescind DACA in September of 2017, Hernández did not set her hopes on a possible Supreme Court decision –that finally came in June of this year– that would uphold or permanently rip off the Band-Aid solution provided by the Obama Administration to a broken immigration system.
“I already knew that whether it was taken away or not, I was still focused on surviving and thriving however I could, with or without DACA,” said Hernández. She said her activism goes beyond immigration, because issues of poverty and inequity adversely affect communities of color, regardless of their migratory status.
“We see brown and black people continuously die in the hands of the system and I don’t think citizenship will take that away.”
Twitter account as her vote
Carmen González is a 19-year-old undocumented student at Santa Monica Community College who does not qualify for DACA. She is in the age range of thousands of first-time voters this year, but due to her immigration status is unable to participate in the process.
“I feel left out. I want to vote,” says the Boyle Heights resident. “I want to have the Instagram selfie with the sticker.”
González says that as an activist, she is often better informed about relevant issues than other students who are citizens. “It’s really interesting to see how I have to push some of my peers to vote,” she says. “It’s really annoying because all you have to do is fill out the ballot. A lot of [them] rely on me to guide them on the propositions.”
The teen says she often uses her Twitter account as her vote, tagging elected politicians to some of her more critical posts.
González, who is the only undocumented member of her family, says she experienced fear and anxiety living under the Trump administration. When the president ordered mass immigration raids, she said she no longer felt safe in her own home, out of fear Immigration Customs Enforcement were going to knock on her door at any time. She often sought refuge with friends who were living through the same situation.
Although voting is the usual way for most people to be engaged in government, González has found other outlets to show her civic involvement, where she can be unapologetically loud and undocumented.
“I would rather be loud than to be shunned. Immigrants are told not to speak too much because we should be thankful, but I’m like, the trauma that they have inflicted on me does not deserve my gratefulness” says González, who acknowledges she may be at a lower risk of being deported because her mother is a U.S. citizen.
Not over on Nov. 3
Regardless of who wins a national election, these advocates for the undocumented say the real work happens at the community level.
“Right now, we are in a position where [both parties] have failed the undocumented community for decades,” says the Long Beach Immigrant’s Rights Coalition’s Hernández. “I don’t think voting is the only and final way of being engaged, whether you are undocumented or not.”
Hernández encourages those who qualify to go out and vote, “but I think a bigger part is to continue to do work after the elections.”
“For me its continuing to organize the immigrant community, the directly impacted folks that are experiencing all these levels of harm,” she says. “The fight is not over ever, until people get to live in peace and get to live a life with dignity without fearing being separated by their loved ones.”
González insists that not much will change, even if Trump is defeated in this election.
“Honestly, I don’t know what is going to happen on November 3,” says the Boyle Heights teen. “We’ve always have been thriving without any policies on our side, so we’ll just keep pushing.”