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Toward the end of election day, after I knocked on more than 125 doors across Racine to get out the vote, a young man called out to my canvassing partner and me from his car.
“Are you with Biden?” he asked. We said yes. He explained that he had been searching all day for a witness to sign his absentee ballot. He was a first-time voter and worried that time was running out.
When I agreed to be his witness, relief washed over his face. Together we stood on the side of the street in the cold November dusk, making his ballot official. When I handed it back, I looked at him with joyful tears in my eyes. He beamed back at me, grateful. He was Black and in his early twenties. I’m 19 and the daughter of undocumented immigrants from Mexico. My canvassing partner is my best friend and a Dreamer. Our life experiences differ, but because our respective communities showed up in force – as voters and volunteers – we helped flip Wisconsin and delivered Joe Biden his victory.
Nationally, Biden captured 69 percent of Hispanics between 18 and 29 years old. Here in Wisconsin, it was 79 percent, according to The American Election Eve Poll. That’s largely the result of the relentless outreach of roughly 1,300 Latinx and multiracial youth across Wisconsin. Through the nonprofit Voces de la Frontera Action, we reached out to more than 100,000 Latinx voters in the state before election day. The majority of us are teens with undocumented family members. We are Dreamers or know them well. We’ve been personally impacted and, in some cases, traumatized by anti-immigrant policies. It’s why we spent years organizing. But though Biden’s win is a victory for us, the new administration cannot take us for granted. Our leaders must make good on the promises they made us. They may have won our votes, but they have to do the hard work if they want to keep them.
I’m a U.S. citizen, a lifelong Racine resident, a first-time voter, and a first-generation college student at Carthage College. My parents, both undocumented, moved to the U.S. from Mexico more than two decades ago to escape poverty. Throughout their time in the U.S., they’ve worked hard and have always paid their taxes. But with no pathway to legal status, they live in perpetual fear. Their nightmare is getting deported and separated from my three younger sisters and me.
Whenever I canvass, phone bank, or organize events, I think of my parents and others gripped by the same nightmare. It’s why, despite my heavy course load and double major, I became an intern for Fabi Maldonado, District 2 supervisor on the Racine County Board, and signed up to co-chair Voces’ Civic Engagement Committee to mobilize my community. This week I’m helping host a day of action supporting immigrants and refugees in Racine. The goal of this national event, organized by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), is to lobby our local and national leaders to start the hard work of walking back Trump’s 400-plus inhumane immigration executive actions and replacing them with fair, inclusive policies. Every day, I see how my parents have to work harder, endure discrimination and settle for reduced pay, despite all the ways they contribute. I see their fear. I’ve had enough. We all have.
Immigrants are integral to our society. In Wisconsin, immigrants paid $2.7 billion in taxes in 2018, and 14,571 immigrant entrepreneurs employed 55,354 people, supporting services and fueling the economy, according to New American Economy. Nationally, 280,000 undocumented immigrants work in healthcare on the front lines of the pandemic, including 62,600 who are DACA-eligible. Meanwhile, nearly half of the almost 1.2 million DACA-eligible immigrants are essential workers.
America needs immigrants like my parents and my Dreamer friends. And immigrants deserve sensible, humane policies that allow them to thrive and contribute in even greater ways. I’m proud of the historic victory that youth of color helped bring forth in Wisconsin, and I’m encouraged to see that our movement is growing. Biden has promised to be “a president for all Americans.” If he wants to hold onto votes like ours, he must also stand up for our family members, the millions of people who keep America running.