Undocumented immigrants experience the elections with anxiety

Undocumented immigrants experience the elections with anxiety

Originally Published in the Chicago Sun-Times

Gisela Orozco - October 29, 2020

Voting, in addition to being an exercise of democracy, these elections will define the fate of 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Alma Silva poses for a portrait at the corner of W 19th St. and S Ashland Ave in Pilsen, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Alma Silva poses for a portrait at the corner of W 19th St. and S Ashland Ave in Pilsen, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

As an immigrant and “Dreamer,” Esmeralda Montesinos admits to living with anxiety and worrying every waking hour.

But she has decided to confront her fears in the face of the 2020 elections and in the midst of the pandemic. She went out to get out the vote.

Montesinos works as a volunteer and fellow of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) Democracy 2020 Project through the non-profit organization Brighton Park Community Council.

“I understand others’ frustration. I’m worried all the time, that’s why I do this job. I want to do something to contribute to change,” Montesinos said.

Originally from Valle de Chalco in the State of Mexico, Montesinos immigrated to the United States when she was 2. She is now 23, and for the past seven years she has been protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Established in 2012 by decree of then-US President Barack Obama, DACA protects thousands of immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as minors from deportation and allows them to work legally.

In 2017, current President Donald Trump announced it would shut down the program that backs more than 700,000 immigrant young adults. The Supreme Court earlier this year put that effort on hold, which legal battles to end the program would likely persist if he is reelected.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Joe Biden has promised if he wins, on the first day of his term he will make DACA a “permanent” program.

For this reason, Montesinos, during a pandemic and unable to knock on doors and have a face-to-face conversation with potential voters, is organizing phone banks to inform and raise awareness among new voters about the importance of their vote in this election, especially those who support immigrants and social justice.

“Please vote. For on behalf of their family, friends and people who they know are immigrants. Vote with us in mind, for our communities, because democracy cannot work if you don’t vote,” Montesinos urges people.

‘My family is divided’

In the 2016 elections, Alma Hernández began her work as a community organizer with the San Toribio Society, a group formed by volunteers from parishes in Pilsen and Little Village, to get out the vote.

It was as part of this group that she participated in the “Vote for Me” campaign, to encourage those who could vote to do so on behalf of those who could not. Four years ago, Hernández was also undocumented, along with two of her four daughters.

Last year, 24 years after she immigrated to Chicago from her native Torreón, Coahuila, in Mexico, during which she applied for permanent residency, her appointment finally came to start the process. Last May, she received her green card.

As a permanent resident, Hernández still cannot vote; her community work to promote the vote continues, though, currently with the Resurrection Project. She acknowledged that pushing the vote in these elections has been difficult.

Alma Silva poses for a portrait at the corner of W 19th St. and S Ashland Ave in Pilsen, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Alma Silva poses for a portrait at the corner of W 19th St. and S Ashland Ave in Pilsen, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“This time, there is much more concern. With the pandemic, we did not have the same opportunity to motivate people to vote, to campaign and that worries us. There is mistrust. People remember what happened in the last elections, and [those who can] don’t want to vote. We have to fight against the hopelessness,” she said.

Hernández also lives in distress. One of her daughters continues to be covered under DACA. “Every year they make us tremble. My family is divided,” she added, facing the possibility of the program being canceled and having to see her family separated.

“The concern is non-stop and even when you vote there is uncertainty, figuring out who is the good guy. The fact that we already know one of them [Trump] should be enough to make a decision, if we continue down the same path or take the risk of electing someone else,” she said.

‘Illegal or essential’

Voting, in addition to being an exercise of democracy, these elections will define the fate of 11 million undocumented immigrants.

“It is not only DACA, but all immigration policy,” said Jorge Mújica, an activist and community organizer with Arise Chicago.

“From border spending, to immigration restrictions, and policies that grant visas . . . there are like 23 aspects of immigration policy that are in trouble,” he added.

And in times of Covid-19, “We all know that most Latinos (and undocumented immigrants) are essential workers,” he said.

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