For much of my childhood, I lived in Ecuador without my parents. It was very hard to grow up that way, because I was the youngest of my siblings, and when I got bullied, I didn’t have my parents there to stand up for me.
When I moved to New York just before I turned 15, we got to live together as a family for the first time. I felt angry at first. I wondered why they’d left me behind — maybe they didn’t love me enough?
I can’t vote this year, but you can bet that immigrants like me in New York are going to make sure that eligible relatives and neighbors like my sister-in-law register and head to the polls. For that, I say: thank you Donald.
- Eliiana Fernandez
Years later, as a mother who wants what’s best for her two children, I understand why my parents did what they did. They wanted to give us a better education and future than I could have had in Ecuador. And their difficult decision paid off: my brother, sister, and I have degrees in math, engineering, and sociology respectively. I was on the Dean’s List most semesters in college.
Still, their decision could not fix an out-of-date immigration system. Despite our best efforts, there has been no way for us to regularize our immigration status. I lived on Long Island for over 12 years as an undocumented immigrant, until 2012, when President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. I applied as soon as I could and obtained relief, which has since protected me from being separated from my U.S.-born children.
DACA also changed my life because it enabled me to get the social work job that I wanted to help others and pay for my own education. Every day now, I work to connect people with social programs and motivate them to pursue an education and a brighter future.
That’s why it’s been so shocking to hear Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates pledging to end DACA if they win the presidency. Messrs. Trump, Cruz, and Kasich have all opposed DACA and the President’s more recent immigration relief for immigrant parents (DAPA), and they’ve rejected any immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants like me. What’s worse, other candidates have supported Trump’s call for mass deportation — not to speak of the nasty words that Trump is using to stereotype my community, like “criminals” and “rapists.”
It leaves me wondering: Why do these men want to tear our families apart and prevent immigrants like me from contributing even more to our economy?
It also leaves me, like many others in my community, feeling more motivated to get out the vote this year.
I still can’t vote, even though my two children are US citizens. I wish I could become a citizen and cast my ballot this year to be a part of holding politicians accountable for calling us names and endorsing proposals that would devastate our families.
But, though I can’t vote, I know that this election will be an awakening moment for my community to raise its voice and be heard. Latinos and immigrants like me are ready to make sure that all of our neighbors who are eligible both register and get to the polls.
Last year, I led a team of more than 20 young people to get out the vote. It was rewarding to see young people becoming more involved and wanting to make a change in their community. And these efforts worked: The public voter file showed us after the election that thousands of the people we engaged did, indeed, cast their ballots.
This year, all the anti-immigrant language from Republicans will motivate our community, and we’ll register and mobilize thousands of voters here in New York. With more than four million immigrants in New York, and our share of the vote increasing in every election cycle, I know that strong outreach in our communities will have an impact on the general elections for Congress, State legislature, and President.
I can see our community’s power growing even within my own family. This month, we’re celebrating my sister-in-law’s recent naturalization; she will be able to vote for the first time in 2016. Like the increasing number of legal permanent residents who are becoming citizens and registering to vote, she brings hope to our family, because we know that she can join the chorus speaking up for us in November.
I can’t vote this year, but you can bet that immigrants like me in New York are going to make sure that eligible relatives and neighbors like my sister-in-law register and head to the polls.
For that, I say: thank you Donald.
Eliana Fernández is a member of Make the Road Action, an immigrant advocacy group. Follow them: @MakeTheRoadAct.